Wednesday 21 February 2018

EU members get their say on Canada trade deal

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

Sarah Collins in Brussels

Brussels yesterday inked a trade deal with Canada but it now risks being thrown out by European Union member states.

The European Commission reluctantly agreed to send the agreement back to EU capitals following a popular backlash against free trade across the bloc.

"We are crystal clear: we do think that, legally, this is an EU-only agreement," EU trade chief Cecilia Malmström told reporters in Strasbourg yesterday, meaning it shouldn't need sign off by national parliaments.

The deal, which is seven years in the making, is likely to be passed by the Dáil but faces risks in a number of countries, including Bulgaria, Romania, Austria, Germany, Belgium and France.

Bulgaria and Romania are threatening to hold up the deal until Canada grants their citizens visa-free travel.

Other countries will hear fears that the deal protects investors over workers and will lead to a reduction in environmental and safety standards.

The Irish Congress of Trades Unions said the deal will lead to the privatisation of public services and the dismantling of workers rights.

Ms Malmström accused EU governments yesterday of "not showing the adequate leadership" in explaining the deal to their citizens.

"The risk to ending EU trade policy as we know it is that member states infect this debate by confusing the content of the agreement with a general malaise and anti-globalisation feelings in their countries," she said.

The deal, known as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA, is the largest trade deal every concluded by the EU. It eliminates 99pc of customs duties between the EU and Canada and opens up lucrative public procurement contracts and agri-food markets for EU companies. EU trade deals are negotiated by the European Commission on behalf of the bloc's governments, but have increasingly required the approval of EU parliaments before they can take effect.

Recent deals with Colombia and Peru are still going through national parliaments, while a 2011 deal with South Korea, which was also subject to national approval, has passed.

The Commission estimates it has boosted EU exports by 55pc and saved businesses around €3bn on customs fees.

The EU is also waiting for the outcome of a court case on a deal with Singapore, which it hopes will set a legal precedent for future deals, including a controversial EU-US trade deal, which is being negotiated.

Irish Independent

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