Canadian and European lawmakers trumpeted Wednesday’s approval of the Canada-EU free trade deal by the European Parliament as a win for the values of openness in the face of anti-trade movements, including the Donald Trump administration.
The legislature in Strasbourg, France approved the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) by a margin of 408-254 with 33 abstentions. The vote clears a major hurdle for the deal that saw its first round of bargaining almost eight years ago and has had to overcome mounting anti-trade populism in Europe.
Canada’s Parliament is also expected to ratify the deal in the coming months, which means that 90% of the deal would come into force under what is known as provisional application — a key procedural step that allows the deal to take effect without the ratification of the European Union’s 28 member countries and numerous regional governments.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau departs Ottawa later today and is to deliver his own pro-trade message in an address to the European Parliament on Thursday — a first for a Canadian leader — and to top business leaders a day later in Germany.
“This is the right deal at the right time. Good for workers, consumers and a new standard for trade,” International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, said today.
EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom took direct aim at anti-globalization forces in remarks before the Parliament, in what appeared to be a thinly veiled rebuttal to Trump’s protectionist and anti-immigration policies.
“With Canada we share the democratic values of tolerance and openness. We co-operate in tackling common challenges such as migration, sustainable development, climate change and terrorism,” said Malmstrom.
CETA, as well as its companion strategic partnership agreement would strengthen not only Canada-EU economic relations, but our “geopolitical alliance … making that partnership deeper and more powerful, reaffirming our fundamental values, political principles, and using them to shape globalization,” she said.
She said the deal would help each side “serve its citizens” in the 21st century.
Champagne said Trudeau would be bolstering the merits of “the progressive trade agenda” in his address to EU lawmakers on Thursday.
“Canada is in a unique position to show that trade is good for people and I think we’re going to make that case across the world,” he said in an interview.
Politicians need to do more to sell the merits to free trade to an increasingly skeptical public, he added.
But he suggested the deal would also sell itself, once it is fully ratified.
“When people see in practice what it means for them, I would think that over time people will see the benefits.”
He said critics of the deal “may be philosophically driven, just being against any trade.”
Maude Barlow, chair of the Council of Canadians, said groups such as hers would continue to oppose the deal.
“European opposition to CETA is strong and 38 national and regional parliaments still have to ratify the deal,” she said in a statement. “Referendums, legal challenges, elections and other obstacles still stand in the way of implementation.”
CETA was nearly killed last October when the regional government in Belgium’s Wallonia region almost vetoed the deal.
Another anti-trade group, the Corporate Europe Observatory, called the Wednesday’s vote a sad day for democracy.
“The mobilization against CETA has been one of the strongest European democracy movements ever,” the group’s trade policy campaigner Lora Verheecke said in a statement.
“A glimmer of hope now comes from the many national and regional parliaments across all of the EU that still have to ratify CETA. Each one of them can bring it to a halt.”
Wednesday’s vote should close the drawn-out approval process across the 28 member states, where some governments and legislatures had tried to modify or scupper the deal. The Netherlands could still block it if it demands an advisory national referendum on the deal.
CETA is designed to unite the markets of 35 million Canadians with 500 million Europeans.
The vote comes as populist parties in Europe and Trump in the U.S. have been looking increasingly inwards, thwarting a trade deal with Pacific countries and floating the idea of tariffs on imports.
David Martin, a European parliamentarian for Scotland, called CETA a “watershed moment” that has had to overcome many obstacles.
“Together with our Canadian allies we are standing firm against growing global protectionism, championing open trade in a time when others are losing faith,” he said in a statement.