The EU and Canada secured clearance yesterday for their contentious free trade deal and the removal of import duties that supporters say will boost growth and jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.
The two parties can claim a success for their open markets policy after months of protest and uncertainty and in the face of US President Donald Trump, who has withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and wants to rework the North American Free Trade Agreement.
MEPs backed the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) by 408-254, meaning large parts of the EU-Canada deal, notably tariff reduction, will enter into force some eight years after negotiations began.
Ceta has been the focus of demonstrations in Europe led by trade unions and protest groups that say it will lead to a race to the bottom in labour and environmental standards and allow multinational corporations to dictate public policy. The chief point of contention is the deal’s system to protect foreign investors, which critics say can lead to cases such as Philip Morris’s challenge, albeit unsuccessful, of plain tobacco packaging in Australia.
Supporters say the right to regulate is enshrined in the treaty and Ceta has replaced closed arbitration panels with transparent and independent courts to settle disputes. Full implementation of Ceta, including investment, will only ensue after clearance by more than three dozen national and regional parliaments, by no means a certainty.
One left-wing group in the parliament said Ceta still faces defeat in national assemblies, referendums, or at the European court. Backers say Ceta will increase Canadian-EU trade by 20% and boost the EU economy by €12bn a year and Canada’s by €8.6bn.
Jobs Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor said the deal creates a “sizeable new market access opportunities in services and investment for Irish firms”.
Some oppositions TDs say the deal will do nothing to help Irish SMEs.
For Canada, the deal is important to reduce its reliance on the US as an export market. For the EU, it is a first trade pact with a G7 country and a success at a time when its credibility has taken a beating from Brexit.
The EU recognises EU-US trade talks are frozen, but wants Ceta to be one of a series of trade deals it plans with the likes of Vietnam, Japan, and Mexico.
Reuters and Irish Examiner staff
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