Canada/EU trade deal remains mired in uncertainty

Ratification of the historic Canada-EU trade and investment pact is anything but a sure thing

With just two months to go before the scheduled signing of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union, things are up in the air.

There’s uncertainty over what the deal will entail, and nobody’s sure if ratification is going to happen.

The U.K. is on the way out of the EU, at least three countries are quarrelling with parts of the deal and three others are seeking changes, according to one European news source.

Politico Europe says six countries are either proposing amendments to the deal reached in 2015 or are seeking changes to it. Other European reports suggest this deal and a similar pact under negotiation between Europe and the United States will become lost in the fallout from the British decision.

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If all somehow goes according to plan, the leaders of the 28 EU countries are scheduled to meet Oct. 20 to give final approval. If they do, Prime Minister Trudeau will travel to Brussels for a signing ceremony.

Once the deal is signed, Canada and Europe are to launch the ratification process, which could take into 2017 or longer. Parliament and the provinces will have to ratify the deal for Canada while the European Parliament as well as the 28 EU member-states will each have to ratify it for its provisions to come into effect across Europe.

Late last year, Canada and Europe announced a legal scrub of the proposed agreement had been completed setting the stage for the October meeting.

Ottawa trade guru Peter Clark says he’s receiving the same information from his sources about European opposition to the deal. “Don’t expect these dissidents to simply abstain,” he said. “This is the first agreement of its type for the EU, so don’t expect the past to be a prefect indicator.”

Belgium, Romania and Bulgaria have all said they can’t sign the deal in its present form, while Greece, Poland and Austria want modifications to details of the agreement. Whether their opposition will be enough to stall or scuttle the deal remains to be seen.

Failing to ratify it would cast a dark shadow over the EU’s ability to negotiate agreements, as well as Europe’s interest in free trade with the rest of the world.

Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland hasn’t addressed publicly either the impact of Britain’s Brexit vote or the dissatisfied European countries. Canada contends that 90 per cent of the deal could apply provisionally, once the EU Parliament ratifies the deal.

As well, there has been no further word from Ottawa about British requests for a separate trade deal with Canada. Britain is Canada’s fourth-largest trading partner.

Federal officials say Canada and Europe don’t want to tinker with the deal, which was negotiated on the basis of Britain being included, for fears it could unravel. The deal is of considerable economic importance to both sides even if Britain isn’t part of it. It’s also a precedent for other trade agreements and its collapse at this point would be a bad omen.

Canadian officials say they don’t believe changes to the deal are necessary.

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