UPDATE: Trudeau pushes CETA in EU leaders’ summit
French National Assembly begins its consideration of France's ratification bill.
MONTREAL — Lawmakers in France began their ratification of the comprehensive trade agreement between the European Union and Canada as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed one of the leaders of the 28-country bloc to Montreal on July 17.
Trudeau has been pushing hard for a win on trade and foreign policy after two difficult years marked by a rough renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement with the Trump administration and the deterioration of political and trade relations with China.
Trudeau will talk up the merits of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA, with European Council President Donald Tusk in a series of events in Montreal over the next two days.
Canada’s Parliament has already ratified the pact with the support of the Liberals and the Conservatives, but seven Canadian and Quebec politicians sent a letter to French lawmakers this week urging them not to follow suit.
“CETA is based on a blueprint for trade that gives incredible rights to corporations – in the areas of protection, patents, public services, regulatory harmonization, and food and agriculture – without extending comparable rights to people, communities and the environment,” says the letter, whose signatories include Jagmeet Singh and Elizabeth May, the leaders of the NDP and the Green party.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Business Council of Canada and Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters issued a joint statement denouncing the Canadian politicians.
“It is disturbing that Canadian MPs, including the leaders of two political parties, would undermine Canadians by lobbying foreign parliamentarians to defeat a measure that has been passed by our Parliament. At a time when Canada needs more trade certainty, our three organizations strongly oppose careless actions that risk our collective economic interests,” they said.
Trudeau and Tusk kicked off their summit with a visit to the bustling Port of Montreal, the gateway for European sea shipments into Canada.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was supposed to join them but he did not make the trip. Neither the Prime Minister’s Office nor the EU Embassy in Ottawa could say why his schedule changed.
The French National Assembly’s consideration of France’s CETA ratification bill is also a prime focus for Canada’s Liberal prime minister, who will be fighting a federal election this fall.
Sources in France and Canada, who were not authorized to speak publicly about the talks, say Trudeau lobbied French President Emmanuel Macron for more than a year to introduce the bill, and that those efforts finally paid off last month in Paris during their most recent face-to-face meeting.
Almost all of CETA – in excess of 90% – went into force in September 2017 under what is known as provisional application, but individual ratifications by EU member countries will bring it fully into effect.
That would mean a win for the international trading order that has been under assault by US President Donald Trump.
“It’s an essential step. We’re very pleased with our co-operation with the French government,” International Trade Minister Jim Carr said in an interview.
Carr is to meet his EU counterpart Cecilia Malmstrom in Montreal. He said the French move towards ratification is a significant step to Canada’s broader goal of diversifying Canada’s export markets.
Trudeau was in Paris in early June after attending the 75th anniversary commemorations of D-Day in France and Britain, and he and Macron emerged with news that France would move forward with CETA’s ratification. The introduction of the bill in the National Assembly is a first step in a process that the French government hopes will lead to full ratification by the end of 2019.
Macron and Trudeau have talked about the agreement repeatedly – in Paris in April 2018, in a telephone conversation a year later, and in other face-to-face meetings. Macron is a Europhile and open supporter of CETA, but he has had to tread cautiously because of populist opposition to trade deals in France and across Europe.
“It has been difficult for Macron to find the support for it, but I think also domestically there’s just a long list of other things on his plate so this one has been a difficult issue to champion,” said Meredith Lilly, a Carleton University trade expert.
Canada has lobbied French lawmakers, businesspeople and farmers, an effort that included more than two dozen visits to various regions of France by Isabelle Hudon, the Canadian ambassador.
Trudeau also made a direct appeal to French lawmakers in an April 2018 speech to the National Assembly, the first time a Canadian prime minister addressed that body.
“It’s a positive signal about (the) rules-based multilateral order in a time when there are all kinds of pressures against it, including in Europe – Brexit, right?” said Lilly, who was an adviser to former prime minister Stephen Harper during the nine years of CETA negotiations that concluded under the Liberals.
Earlier this week, Trump signed an executive order strengthening his protectionist Buy American Act, which requires federal agencies to increase their use of American-made products from 50% to 75%.
International trade lawyer Lawrence Herman said Canadian companies need to be more aggressive with the new opportunities open to them in Europe, especially its new “privileged” access to national and sub national government contracts in a sector valued at $3.3 trillion annually.
“As the US turns inward and as protectionism raises its ugly face in the US we have to look at other opportunities. And I think procurement is one of the areas where we have great possibility in Europe.”
CETA gives Canadian businesses preferred access to 500 million European consumers and a $24-trillion market. In 2018, Canada’s exports to the EU increased by seven per cent to more than $44 billion.
But the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance offered mixed reviews on the deal, saying EU agri-food exports to Canada jumped 10% in 2018, compared with the previous year, which increased Canada’s trade deficit with the EU to $3.5 billion.
Meanwhile, Canadian agri-food exports to the EU have dropped 10 per cent since CETA’s 2017 entry into force, the alliance said.