BRUSSELS, Belgium (Reuters) — A major trade deal between Canada and the European Union has developed into the key battle front for European anti-globalization groups.
Supporters of the Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) say it would increase trade between the EU and Canada on a range of products, by nearly a quarter, boosting the EU economy by 12 billion euros.
But anti-globalization groups emboldened by France’s call to suspend EU trade talks with the United States, have turned their attention to the deal already reached with Canada, which has not yet been approved.
There is a growing public backlash in western Europe against free trade and globalization, which critics blame for factory closures, depressed wages and a widening gap between rich and poor.
“CETA is the little brother of TTIP (EU-U.S. Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) and needs to be buried alongside it,” said Fabio De Masi, a German member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the leftist Die Linke party.
Canada is not impressed.
“If the EU cannot do a deal with Canada, I think it is legitimate to say who the heck can it do a deal with?” Canadian Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland said in June.
Other supporters say CETA is the most modern trade deal ever drawn up and that the Canadian government accepted EU de-mands for a new way of settling investor claims.
“There are no deals that are comparable in their quality with CETA,” said Artis Pabriks, a member of the European Parliament. “I would say it is a gold standard.”
The deal would eliminate tariffs on almost 99 percent of goods. As well, EU companies would be able to tender for public contracts at Canadian provincial and municipal levels.
The deal is expected to get the green light from EU member states next month.
However, there are risks it will not. Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern said last week he would start a “conflict” over CETA, while toning down his opposition a day later.
Observers say Kern and others are responding to public mistrust of the planned TTIP in particular what critics call a “race to the bottom” in environmental and food standards.
As well, France and Germany hold elections next year and politicians are curbing their enthusiasm for trade deals.