Agri-food exporters urge progress on CETA

European officials met virtually with Ng on March 25 to discuss progress of the implementing the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). | Screencap via Twitter/@CanadaTrade

Canada’s international trade minister said the country’s free trade deal with the European Union is working as intended.

Mary Ng, Canada’s Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade, made the comments in a joint-statement with the European Commission.

European officials met virtually with Ng on March 25 to discuss progress of the implementing the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

Despite promoters of the deal pointing to increased trade between European Union countries and Canada, there are ongoing concerns over its implementation. Since the deal’s provisional passage in 2017, member states of the EU have imposed trade barriers on Canadian products, including pork, beef, canola, sugar and grains.

Non-trade tariff barriers, like labelling requirements, have prevented the uptick in exports many expected when the deal was signed. Not all member nations have signed the deal, so it is only provisionally applied.

Before the joint committee meeting was held, Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food Trade Alliance (CAFTA) urged EU and Canadian leaders “to ensure science and agreed upon rules are the focus when seeking to resolve ongoing issues of importance to the Canada-EU trade relationship.”

Producers have joined groups like CAFTA in criticizing CETA’s implementation: nearly four years into its provisional implementation, non-tariff trade barriers continue to prevent access to some markets.

“Resolving these issues without further delay is especially important for highly regulated sectors like agri-food which are already subject to myriad of bureaucratic processes and ever-changing regulations. For CETA to work, both sides need to demonstrate a willingness to resolve barriers to agri-food trade,” said the organization’s statement.

“Without science at the centre of discussions, existing barriers appear to simply be back door protectionism which runs completely counter to the spirit in which CETA was concluded. For discussions on the recognition of the sustainability practices of canola farmers, Canada’s meat approval system and the EU import tolerances for crop protection inputs, science needs to be at the core of decision-making.”

Organizations like the Canadian Cattleman’s Association contend the agri-food trade deficit with the European Union continues to grow. Once expected to reach $1.5 billion in new agri-food exports, CETA has fallen short of those targets.

Minister of Agriculture Marie-Claude Bibeau said last September she would like to see Canada benefit from CETA, but that was “not the case yet.” She said she wanted the deal to be “more balanced.”

The joint communication from Canada and the European Union following the March 25 meeting said the parties called upon “all trading partners to ensure trade measures are transparent, science-based, and not more trade restrictive than necessary” while also emphasizing “the importance for continued work between officials to address outstanding regulatory and other market access issues to allow exporters on both sides to more fully maximize benefits under CETA.”

The official communication from officials made no mention of agriculture or agri-food trade.

The meeting resulted in an agreement on establishing a tribunal to resolve disputes among members. Climate change, gender and small-to-medium sized enterprises were focuses of discussion at the meeting.

Another meeting is scheduled for autumn 2022.

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