Farm Ireland

Sunday 25 February 2018

Brussels briefing: Trade deals under pressure on all sides

European Union trade chief Cecilia Malmström
European Union trade chief Cecilia Malmström

Sarah Collins

Trade is a contentious word in Europe these days.

While the EU has just about salvaged a trade deal with Canada, it has been forced to hit pause on a larger agreement with the US, which is more than three years in the making.

With anti-globalisation sentiment surging, especially in Austria, Germany, Belgium and France, EU trade ministers decided to apply the Canada deal "provisionally" as of early next year, minus controversial parts, such as a system of private investor courts.

Those will have to wait until every national parliament - including regional assemblies in Belgium and other countries - have ratified it, which could take several years.

They have also asked for clarifications on other contested parts of the deal, such as access to public procurement markets and labour and environmental standards, in a written declaration to be appended to the deal.

The aim is to initial the agreement and declaration at a summit with Canada on October 27.

The mess does not bode well for future EU trade deals, particularly the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) with the US, which the Americans wanted to conclude before President Obama leaves office in January.

"Canada is, of course, a very close partner to the European Union; it is a country that shares many of our values, a country that is very close to us, and we hope that we can set high standards by agreeing to this agreement," said EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström. "If we can't do it with Canada, well then, with whom can we make agreements," she said after a trade meeting in the Slovak capital, Bratislava, last week.

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TTIP, the largest deal the EU has ever attempted, will benefit Ireland more than any other EU country, the European Commission said, increasing growth by more than 1pc.

But more than three million people have signed a petition to stop TTIP and the Canadian deal, known as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA.

Anti-TTIP demonstrators took to the streets of Bratislava last Friday as trade ministers met, the latest in a long line of protests by people who say the deals pander to multinational interests over ordinary citizens.

"A conclusion of the TTIP negotiations by the end of the year is unrealistic. Another important element will be the upcoming presidential elections in the USA. Any agreement, including TTIP, has to be balanced and beneficial for the EU," said Slovakia's economy minister, Peter Ziga.


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