Canada, EU trade deal framework expected by week’s end

CME CEO Jayson Myers says he is confident the deal will bode well for Canadian manufacturers.

OTTAWA – Canada has reached a framework agreement with the European Union on establishing a comprehensive free trade zone encompassing virtually every sector of economic activity, with an official ceremony expected by the end of this week.

After a day of leaks that a deal in principle had been reached, the prime minister’s office all but confirmed the occasion by announcing Stephen Harper would travel to Brussels to meet European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso “with the goal of concluding the CETA negotiations.”

Earlier in the day, both Harper and Barroso tweeted that they expected an agreement “soon.”

The promise was repeated in the throne speech, which was delivered Wednesday afternoon by the Governor General.

Although observers have been predicting a conclusion to the four-year-talks at various stages during the past year, an agreement always seemed to elude negotiators.

For auto manufacturers, the agreement calls for a phase-out of tariffs on auto imports, and allows European firms to bid on some sub-national government procurement, which could affect provincial and municipal contracts.

But the CEO of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters is confident the deal will bode well for Canadian manufacturers.

“The agreement is important because it opens markets for small businesses looking to export goods and services, invest, and commercialize new technologies in Europe and other markets around the world,” said Jayson Myers.

After four years of negotiations, business lobby groups welcomed with relief that an end-line appeared in sight.

“On both sides of the Atlantic, the CETA will create jobs, spur investment and promote economic growth,” said John Manley, a former Liberal cabinet minister who currently heads the Canadian Council of Chief Executives.

Trade lawyer Lawrence Herman of Cassels Brock said the agreement would be “milestone-setting,” pointing out that its reach will make NAFTA – the Canada-US-Mexico trade agreement of 20 years ago – look modest by comparison.

“It will cover a wide swath. Lots of internal matters, well beyond the border, like government procurement, patent protection, investment disputes and the like,” he said. “The sheer breadth of this deal may come as a surprise to many, since the government hasn’t prepared Canadians well enough.”

For the Harper government, a completed CETA that is generally supported by Canadians would be a major achievement and no doubt something the prime minister can trumpet in the next election campaign. The government has long made trade expansion around the world a key element of its agenda for jobs and prosperity, but as yet had little to show for all its grand ambitions.

But analysts noted that something could still go off the rails and that the ratification process, requiring approval of the provinces in their areas of jurisdiction and the 28 member European states, will likely take another two years.

That gives critics plenty of time to try and scuttle the deal. The Council of Canadians jumped the gun on the next step issuing a letter to the premiers asking that they hold off assent and seek broad public input on the agreement.

©The Canadian Press