EU calms Austrian fears over trade with Canada

European Commission met with Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern to discuss the concerns of labour unions and protest groups

STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) — European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker sought to overcome Austrian concerns about a contentious free trade deal with Canada last week and ex-pressed optimism that EU governments would agree to the arrangement this month.

Juncker said the EU needed to ensure that a deal agreed with Canada two years ago entered into force within months and that he would discuss the issue with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“I do think that we will reach a final agreement, which will take on board — in a specific declaration — the concerns of all the member states,” he said in the European Parliament, referring to the 28 nations that make up the EU.

Some EU countries, notably Austria, have baulked at accepting the deal after mass demonstrations by labour unions and protest groups, which say it will spark a “race to the bottom” in standards and allow big business to challenge governments across Europe.

After a meeting with Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern, Juncker said the commission and Austria shared the view that public services such as water should not be affected by the trade agreement.

The commission, which negotiates trade deals for the EU, and Canada have agreed to produce a binding declaration that spells out the limits of the pact to dispel public concerns.

“It would be too early now to say we have reached an agreement,” Kern said.

He will wait to present the declaration to his Social Democrat party. However, he said on Twitter that vehement Austrian lobbying appeared to be effective.

Juncker said the declaration should be ready soon.

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement needs approval from EU governments as well as the European Parliament before it can come into force provisionally next year. It would still need later ratification by national parliaments to be applied in full.

EU trade ministers are expected to decide on the deal at an extraordinary meeting Oct. 18, allowing it to be signed during Trudeau’s visit to Brussels Oct. 27.

The European Parliament would then probably vote on CETA in December or January.

Juncker earlier told the European Parliament he was not a “blind free trader,” but he believed trade was essential for job creation, pointing to the EU-South Korea free trade deal, which he said had yielded 210,000 jobs in Europe since it came into force in 2011.

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