CETA signed but many trade questions remain for Liberals

The federal government isn’t losing any time in its efforts to ratify the newly signed Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Europe.

International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland tabled the necessary legislation in the House of Commons Oct. 31, one day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signed the multibillion-dollar trade deal on a last minute trip to Brussels.

The Brussels trip is a historic moment in Canadian trade history. CETA is the biggest multilateral trade deal Canada has negotiated and signed since the treasured North American Free Trade Agreement was negotiated in the 1990s between Canada, the United States and Mexico.

The European deal has been seven years in the making. It includes increased market access for agricultural goods like beef, pork and grains, could boost trade between the two regions by an estimated 20 percent.

Freeland has said ratification could happen as early as December. The European Union must also adopt legislation for the trade deal to come into effect.

It is a major milestone for the Trudeau government and it comes following widespread criticisms by opposition MPs after a stalemate between the EU and the Belgium southern region of Wallonia threatened to unravel the agreement.

Three weeks ago, few people in Canada had even heard of Wallonia, where there is one cow for every three people.

The gridlock prompted Freeland to walk away from the negotiation table and fly home, leaving European officials to sort out the mess on their own and figure out why a trade deal with a country like Canada had become so controversial.

Canada is Europe’s 12th largest trading partner, with trade in goods between them valued at $92.5 billion.

Still, even with the deal now signed, there is more work yet to do.

Dairy farmers are waiting for details on their promised compensation package, designed to help mitigate the effects of concessions that grant more access for European cheese in Canada.

Freeland has said those details will be made public in time for ratification.

Nor does a completed CETA deal simplify Canada’s broader trade agenda.

In the United States, all eyes are focused on next week’s election, in which both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have voiced objections to the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership. Trump has gone further, promising to rip up the 1994 NAFTA trade deal if he is elected president.

Canada and the United States have the largest and most comprehensive trading relationship in the world, with more than $2 billion in goods and services travelling daily across the border.

With the TPP on hold, Canadian farm groups are starting to wonder whether it’s time Canada re-open trade talks with Japan, seen as a key market for future Canadian trade.

Meanwhile, Conservative party trade critic Gerry Ritz has mused in public about whether it’s time to start looking at re-negotiating the TPP without the United States, given the protectionist voices that are emerging south of the border.

Japan isn’t the only Asian market with which Canada is looking to expand trade. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in September that talks are underway with China.

Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay is currently in China on a 10-day trade mission, where market access is a key item on the agenda. While the trip is not officially part of Canadian-Chinese trade talks, the minister has said he hopes to address regulatory concerns and increase value-added trade.

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