Federal government stays positive about EU trade

Canada’s government leaders are maintaining a cautiously optimistic tone in describing the Canada-European Union trade deal, despite frustrations from vexed Canadian exporters.

But while remaining positive and constructive in tone, federal cabinet ministers have repeatedly encouraged European leaders and officials to fix the chronic problems that have stymied Canadian hopes for improved agricultural trade.

“CETA (Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement) marked a new chapter in the relationship between the European Union and Canada and is delivering unparalleled opportunities for Canadians and our businesses,” said Ryan Nearing, the press secretary to International Trade Minister Mary Ng, on Sept. 25, a few days after the third anniversary of the deal.

The frustrations of agri-food exporters are well known and “our government is actively working to resolve challenges such as the non-tariff barriers posed by EU regulations in agriculture and food. Minister Ng has raised this issue with her EU counterparts numerous times, including in many discussions with former EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan.”

The problems have also been regularly acknowledged by federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, as recently as a Sept. 25 appearance at an online agriculture summit.

Canadian farmers should be benefitting from CETA, “which is not the case yet.”

The CETA was a hallmark achievement of both the Stephen Harper Conservative government, which negotiated the deal, and the Justin Trudeau Liberal government, which saw it finalized, approved in Canada and shepherded through the EU’s byzantine political, bureaucratic and national governments system.

One of the chief gains hoped for was increased exports of pork and beef, as well as better protection for crops and foods that had regularly faced political challenges. The CETA created resolution systems designed to keep politics out of regulatory issue.

However, Canada’s agri-food exports to the EU have stagnated since the agreement came into force. EU exports to Canada, however, have surged.

Exporters have not accused the government of ignoring the issue, since it has been often raised.

Indeed, on May 15 Global Affairs Canada issued a news release detailing Ng’s meeting with the EU’s Hogan in which it explicitly referred to Canadian frustrations.

“Minister Ng impressed the need for Canada and the EU to work together to ensure Canadian businesses and workers, specifically our farmers, producers and manufacturers, benefit from the agreement,” reads the release.

“She underscored the importance of improving EU market access for Canadian agricultural products through the removal of technical barriers to trade. She also emphasized the need to accelerate the accreditation of Canadian conformity assessment bodies responsible for the certification of Canadian goods to EU requirements.”

The EU faced a number of challenges from groups within member states when CETA was negotiated, and the approval process was tortuous.

Since it has come into force, the EU has pointed to the deal as evidence of its desire to be a global free-trader.

It has also, similar to the Canadian government, celebrated the deal’s successes.

On the EU Delegation to Canada’s website are stories and videos such as “Spotlight on CETA success stories – Vancouver.”

That positive tone is typical in its approach.

Canada and the EU work closely on numerous issues of international trade, including trying to protect and bolster the World Trade Organization and the rules-based trading order.

Canada’s agri-food exporters and a group of former premiers believe the federal government needs to make a bigger issue out of the current challenges because the situation is not an improvement on the pre-CETA situation. They have suggested an upcoming G7 meeting at which this could be discussed.

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