Ireland risks falling into a “laggard group” if it delays any further the ratification of the controversial EU-Canada trade deal.
Some other EU countries have already ratified the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) and Mr Varadkar said the good deal for Ireland “should have been ratified ages ago”.
Speaking at the Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Mr Varadkar said he could not explain why his coalition partner, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, changed his position on Ceta. Ceta has been the source of considerable controversy and was recently subject to a failed High Court challenge by Green Party TD Patrick Costello.
Appearing before the committee, Mr Varadkar said free enterprise is a good thing for Ireland and upholding the agreement would be a good thing. In her contribution to the committee, Sinn Féin's Enterprise spokeswoman Louise O'Reilly said the sense urgency from Government is not necessary.
Mr Varadkar said the ratification of the deal by Ireland would be a important signal to Canadian companies that this is a place where you should be placing your European business, comparing how Ireland markets itself to large multinational firms in the US.
He insisted this is not just a deal for big business saying smaller companies can often benefit the most from these trade deals. He said this is on the basis that charges and barriers to trade are removed, pointing out there is an entire chapter dedicated to SMEs in Ceta.
The Green Party’s Roisin Garvey said she hoped that the only goods that are imported are goods that cannot be produced in Ireland and that there is a focus on producing more goods in Ireland - particularly on foodstuffs.
In response, Mr Varadkar explained things are often imported because they are more cheaply produced abroad. He pointed to examples of furniture and clothes, and said this reality needs to be borne in mind.
Mr Varadkar said already a number of Canadian property companies invest in Ireland and are funders of new and large-scale housing projects. He said this support will continue and will not be affected should Ceta be ratified.
Former Enterprise Minister and Fine Gael TD Richard Bruton said he can understand why people have concerns about the deal but that this agreement is "particularly protective" and protects the State's rights.
Mr Varadkar said Ireland is a wealthy country because it exports abroad and it would send a very bad message if the country rejected the deal.
The Ceta deal row comes amid Ireland’s controversial hesitance in signing up for the new OECD-backed global tax deal which would see corporation tax set at a minimum of 15%.
People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy said there will be ‘regulatory chill’ if CETA is passed, whereby fear of being sued by Canadian companies in the new Investor courts could block policy changes in Ireland.
During exchanges with Mr Varadkar, he cited the example of IRES Reit, a major Canadian-owned corporate landlord heavily involved in the rental market here, and the danger of them suing if Ireland introduced rent controls.
During exchanges, the Tánaiste admitted IRES Reit would be able to sue Ireland over such a policy in the proposed new Investor courts if Ceta is ratified.
Mr Murphy said: “Here we have it in black and white: Ceta will strengthen the hand of corporate landlords like IRES Reit against attempts to implement real rent controls here. If we sign up for this, we will be further protecting these massive companies and vulture funds, giving them special Investor Courts not bound by Irish law, and not accessible to ordinary people. “