EU, Canada sign long-de­layed trade pact

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - BUSINESS - By Lorne Cook

BRUS­SELS » The Euro­pean Union and Canada signed Sun­day a land­mark trade pact, end­ing days of drama after a small Bel­gian re­gion re­fused to en­dorse the agree­ment and deeply em­bar­rassed the EU.

As pro­test­ers gath­ered out­side EU head­quar­ters in Brus­sels, Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, Euro­pean Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk, Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Juncker and Slo­vak Prime Min­is­ter Robert Fico, whose coun­try holds the EU’s ro­tat­ing pres­i­dency, put an end to the sus­pense by sign­ing the Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic and Trade agree­ment.

“This ac­cord is the prod­uct of long dis­cus­sions. Frank dis­cus­sions, but which have al­ways taken place in re­spect, among part­ners that share com­mon val­ues,” Trudeau told re­porters after­ward.

The EU needed una­nim­ity among all its 28 mem­bers and Bel­gium needed the back­ing of all its re­gions to ap­prove the pact known as CETA. Trudeau had been due to sign it on Thurs­day, but was forced to can­cel his flight when Bel­gium couldn’t sign on be­cause of op­po­si­tion from the Wal­lo­nia re­gion.

Smaller than the U.S. state of New Jer­sey, Wal­lo­nia de­fied hopes for a deal be­tween more than 500 mil­lion EU cit­i­zens and 35 mil­lion Cana­di­ans for weeks. Politi­cians there ar­gued that CETA would un­der­mine la­bor, en­vi­ron­ment and con­sumer stan­dards and al­low multi­na­tion­als to crush lo­cal com­pa­nies.

After sev­eral rounds of talks late into the night last week Bel­gium for­mally gave its en­dorse­ment on Satur­day morn­ing.

Even Trudeau’s plane ap­peared to have con­spired to hold up the sign­ing cer­e­mony as it turned back to Ot­tawa overnight with me­chan­i­cal prob­lems.

But Trudeau, who made it to EU head­quar­ters only two hours late, said he wel­comed the chal­lenge posed by Wal­lo­nia.

“The fact that through­out

peo­ple are ask­ing tough ques­tions of a deal that will have a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on our economies, and giv­ing us the op­por­tu­nity to demon­strate that that im­pact will be pos­i­tive, is a good thing,” he said.

Juncker lauded the agree­ment as “the best and most pro­gres­sive that we have ever signed.” He added that “we are grate­ful to Canada for be­ing as pa­tient as it has been.”

But, Juncker said wag­ging

his fin­ger, “Bel­gium should re­flect on the way it func­tions when it comes to in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions.”

On the other side of EU head­quar­ters, a rowdy group of around 250 an­tiCETA pro­test­ers gath­ered to block the front en­trance as riot po­lice watched. Red paint was smeared on the build­ing. Some demon­stra­tors had ac­tu­ally en­tered the foyer. Po­lice took away 16 peo­ple, but didn’t break up the protest, spokes­woman Ilse Van de Keere

said.

The EU says CETA will re­move more than 99 per­cent of tar­iffs and boost trade with Canada by 12 bil­lion eu­ros ($13.2 bil­lion) a year, cre­at­ing eco­nomic growth and jobs on both sides of the At­lantic. It in­sists the deal won’t pre­vent gov­ern­ments from mov­ing to pro­tect en­vi­ron­men­tal and so­cial stan­dards if they be­lieve ac­tion is needed, de­spite con­cerns in Wal­lo­nia and else­where that big com­pa­nies would

have free rein.

“We are set­ting in­ter­na­tional stan­dards which will have to be fol­lowed by oth­ers with whom we are in ne­go­ti­a­tions as far as free trade is con­cerned,” Juncker said.

Work on the agree­ment was launched in 2009 and the text was ac­tu­ally fi­nal­ized two years ago but sat in limbo await­ing en­dorse­ment.

The de­lay has raised trou­bling ques­tions about the EU’s abil­ity to seal big

trade agree­ments. Work on a sim­i­lar pact with the U.S. dubbed TTIP has barely ad­vanced this year and lit­tle progress is likely be­fore a new U.S. pres­i­dent takes of­fice in Jan­uary.

“There is no re­al­ism in con­clud­ing TTIP right now,” EU Trade Com­mis­sioner Ce­cilia Malm­stroem said Sun­day, not­ing the U.S. elec­tion cam­paign.

None of it bodes well for the trade talks that Bri­tain will need to have with its 27 EU part­ners once it

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, cen­ter front, sits with Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Juncker, left, and Euro­pean Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk, right, as they sign the Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic and Trade Agree­ment (CETA) dur­ing an EU-Canada sum­mit at the Euro­pean Coun­cil build­ing in Brus­sels on Sun­day.

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