EU’s trade deal with Canada on brink of collapse amid rancour

EU summit: Canadian trade minister declares deal dead as EU’s trade reputation takes hit

Paul Magnette, president of the Wallonian parliament. The French-speaking region of Belgium has voted to block the Ceta trade agreement between the EU and Canada.   Photograph: Thierry Charlier/AFP/Getty Images

Paul Magnette, president of the Wallonian parliament. The French-speaking region of Belgium has voted to block the Ceta trade agreement between the EU and Canada. Photograph: Thierry Charlier/AFP/Getty Images

 

EU leaders left Brussels at the end of a two-day summit with the main question of the day unresolved – the ratification of the EU-Canada trade deal.

Seven years after negotiations on a comprehensive economic and trade agreement (Ceta) between the EU and Canada was opened, there are now serious doubts about the future of the agreement.

As EU leaders arrived at the European Council building in Brussels on Friday morning for their second day of talks, 50km away in Namur, Belgium’s French-speaking regional parliament was meeting to discuss the ongoing impasse in the EU-Canada deal.

A week after the Wallonian government rejected the trade deal, the president of the parliament, Paul Magnette, told the parliament that his concerns still had not been adequately addressed. This included worries about the impact of the trade pact on Belgium’s agriculture industry and continuing concerns about an investor court which would give private companies the right to sue national governments in certain cases.

While all EU member states have signed off on the provisional application of the agreement, Belgium cannot ratify the agreement without the agreement of all five regional parliaments.

By 5pm, following negotiations with Canada’s trade minister Chrystia Freeland, Canada declared the deal dead.

“It is evident to me, for Canada, the European Union is not capable right now to have an international agreement, even with a country that has European values like Canada,” Ms Freeland said.

Serious blow

Ironically, the debacle unfolded as EU leaders were meeting to discuss the union’s future trade policy, an issue that had been scheduled on the agenda for months.

Following the discussion, EU leaders agreed to reform their existing trade defence measures – the tools it uses to put duties on imports – mandating EU trade ministers to return to the issue in November.

But within the EU strong differences remained between member states on the issue. While the European Commission has said it wants to toughen defence measures that the union can take against countries like China and the United States, more traditional supporters of free trade, including Ireland, are wary of any measures that could signal a protectionist stance.

Speaking after the summit, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that Ireland, as a small, open economy, was strongly in favour of trade agreements and was well aware of the benefits of trade. He described the EU-Canada trade deal as a “new-generation agreement that will remove tariffs between the European Union and Canada”, adding that he was confident the impasse could be resolved over the coming days.

But commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said that the European Union needed to react to threats to its industry. “I am against stupid, basic protectionism, but I cannot accept that the Americans and others are protecting their industry and that we are naive guys wanting to charm others,” he said.

Steel industry

With a December 11th deadline looming, when China is due to gain “market economy status” under WTO rules which would give China greater access to EU markets, EU member states will be forced to clarify their trade policy in the coming month.

As Britain, one of the strongest proponents of free trade around the EU table, prepares to leave the bloc, the European Union faces a tricky balance as it tries to convey that it is still a liberal, open economy, while at the same time show that it is listening to the concerns of its citizens at a time when free trade has never seemed so under attack.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.