Trade deals need support

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Protests against the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement between Canada and the European Union have been held in many European countries, most recently in Madrid, Spain, where hundreds of demonstrators marched on Sunday holding signs that read, “Democracy and public services are not sold but defended,” and “Against Europe of inequalities.” 


The argument seems to follow the anti-globalization movement that spawned in the 1990s, when trade agreements began coming under more grassroots scrutiny with the evolution of the internet (NAFTA took effect in 1994). 


Improved trade was intended to allow business to create new opportunities using their comparative advantage, creating jobs and bringing more wealth to poorer countries. Indeed, China and India have benefitted greatly, and now the evolving middle class in those countries are seeking products, including agricultural imports, from North America. 


Those first anti-globalization protests argued that trade deals endangered democracy, the environment and human rights.  


In practise, the benefits and drawbacks in various sectors —manufacturing in North America has been hit particularly hard — haven’t been as good as promised or bad as feared.  


Still, freer trade has benefitted countries that pursued opportunities. The EU has ratified CETA, but only one country out of 28 (Latvia), has so far ratified it. Canada is set to start provisionally applying parts of the deal by July 1.


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The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement is next. It would have opened up a wealth of opportunities, especially for Canadian agriculture and agribusiness. Japan was the big prize.  


But President Donald Trump has pulled the U.S. out of the deal, leaving the other countries to go it alone. They didn’t take long. Meetings in Chile, Canada and Vietnam have revived interest in a deal that would be good for Canadian agricultural exporters. 


Aside from the benefits of trade, it’s good for Canada to open up new markets. Demonstrating that Canada will pursue opportunities without the U.S., leaving the world’s largest economy behind, is a worthy signal to send Trump.


But trade deals are under pressure from various activist groups.  Trade ministers would do well to stand their ground to move both CETA and the TPP along.

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