Give me a crash course in: the EU-Canada trade deal

The signing of Ceta was delayed this week after a region of Belgium rejected it

A blow: Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau (right) spars with Yuri Foreman at Gleason’s Gym in New York. Trudeau had to cancel his trip to Brussels to sign the EU-Canada trade deal this week. Photograph: Justin Lane/EPA

A blow: Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau (right) spars with Yuri Foreman at Gleason’s Gym in New York. Trudeau had to cancel his trip to Brussels to sign the EU-Canada trade deal this week. Photograph: Justin Lane/EPA

 

What is Ceta?

The EU loves its acronyms and Ceta, like the related TTIP EU-US trade deal, has entered common parlance. It is the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between the EU and Canada – in simple terms, a trade deal. EU leaders endorsed it in 2014 after five years of negotiations. It was supposed to be finally ratified at an EU-Canada summit this Thursday. However, Belgium was unable to sign after one of its regional parliaments, Wallonia, rejected it.

Why was Belgium able to reject it?

While trade is usually an EU competence – meaning EU countries negotiate trade deals with other regions en bloc rather than individually – in July the European Commission decided that the EU-Canada trade deal should go to national parliaments for ratification. For some highly federalised countries, this involves regional governments having a say. The decision was taken to show that the EU was living up to democratic standards by allowing member states to vote on trade deals. This valiant attempt at transparency proved to be Ceta’s undoing.

What/where is Wallonia?

No, Wallonia is not a fairytale place, even if it sounds as if it could be lifted from the pages of Gulliver’s Travels. Wallonia and its 3.6 million proud inhabitants, the Walloons, represent the French-speaking community of Belgium. The region in southern Belgium has become the unlikely champion of anti-trade campaigners across the world. Having borne witness to the Battle of Waterloo and the first terrible weeks of the first World War, it proved it is no pushover. After more than two weeks of negotiations it finally agreed to sign up to the deal on Thursday, but that was too late for Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau who on Wednesday night had to cancel his trip to Brussels to sign the deal.

So will the trade deal go ahead?

The EU-Canada summit is expected to take place this weekend in Brussels, but damage has been done. The fact that EU trade deals can be held up by a tiny region has embarrassed the EU, particularly when it is pursuing other trade deals such as the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership).

Do the Walloons have a point?

Many believe they do. Their main concern was the impact of Ceta on Wallonian agriculture and an investor court provision which would allow corporates to sue governments. Even some supporters of free trade are uncomfortable with the notion of a special arbitration court that allows companies to bypass the regular court system. However, within Belgium, Wallonia has been accused of playing politics by Flemish politicians in the north. Many in Flanders have asked why the parliament waited until the very last moment to raise objections to a deal that has been negotiated for seven years.

Should Ireland be supporting Ceta?

The Irish Cabinet approved Ceta although a motion brought by the Independent Senator Alice Mary Higgins opposing the deal was upheld in the Senate. While this has no legal impact, it does reflect an opposition to EU trade deals among some citizens and parties such as Sinn Féin. However, the Irish Farmers’ Association is understood to have been consulted in the early stage of the trade talks. While there are concerns about the impact on the beef and pork sector, ultimately the Government believes that the benefits outweigh the costs. Ceta imposes quotas on certain agricultural products that can be imported into the EU from Canada, while it opens up export markets for European farmers.

What does it mean for EU trade policy?

The Ceta debacle is symptomatic of broader public unease about free trade and globalisation that is shaping political debate in the US and Europe. Even before the Ceta controversy, there was growing doubt about the future of TTIP, which is essentially being put on hold until after the US elections. Ceta also could have ramifications when Britain eventually strikes a trade deal with the EU, particularly if every member state will have to vote on the deal.

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