EU Parliament passes CETA trade deal

By Niamh Michail contact

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock/ronniechua
© iStock/ronniechua
MEPs have voted in favour of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada in Strasbourg today with 408 votes in favour and 254 against.

There were 33 abstentions. The trade deal must now be passed by national and regional governments, which opponents have welcomed as an opportunity to stop it.

However the deal could enter provisionally into force once both sides have completed all necessary internal procedures, which is expected to be the case on 1 April 2017 at the earliest. 

Minutes before the vote, which took place amid whistles and cries of 'Stop CETA', trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström told MEPs: “Trade globally has lifted millions out of poverty, it’s a good thing. This is not business as usual, it’s a new type of trade agreement,”​ adding that, in accordance with politicians' wishes, it contained provisions on issues such as labour rights, sustainable development, animals rights and environmental protection. 

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By eliminating almost all tariffs from day one, exporters stood to save over €500 million each year, she said. Small- and medium-sized businesses, which make up around 80% of the 70,000-plus businesses that export to Canada, would benefit the most from the removal of these obstacles, while things that are forbidden on the EU market today (such as beef produced using growth hormones) would remain forbidden.

The agreement also provides protection for 140 foods that have protected designation of origin (PDO) status. 

It will not remove tariff barriers on public services, audiovisual and transport services and some agricultural products, such as dairy, poultry and eggs.

The result was welcomed by food industry association FoodDrinkEuope.

The European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), which opposed the deal along with a coalition of civil society organisations​, ​said the deal was “hastily adopted​”, but said it could prove to be an opportunity for public health.

Secretary General Nina Renshaw said: “There are some great lessons to be learnt from the adoption of CETA. The EU has the potential and the skills to lead future trade deals placing public health and the public interest first. What remains to be seen is whether there is a will.

Europe should enter future negotiations with a race-to-the top mindset, not compromising its highest standards but rather leading partners to improve​”.

Eurocommerce, which represents the interests of the European retail sector welcomed the result. Its director-general Christian Verschueren called the votean important contribution to the creation of badly-needed growth and jobs in Europe. “Especially at a time of political uncertainty we need an approach that ensures a sound international trading environment. CETA is a good deal both for European companies and European consumers.”

Risk and missed opportunities

Karine Jacquemart, director general of industry watchdog Foodwatch France, said: “CETA puts the autonomy of EU and member state legislation at risk, threatens the European precautionary principle and establishes a dangerous parallel justice system in which investors have rights but no obligations. CETA is as bad as [the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership] TTIP.​"

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Trade commissioner Cecelia Malmstrom addressing the EU Parliament today

Monique Goyens, director general of pan-European consumer group BEUC, said: “CETA fails the consumer crash test. The agreement will not really provide benefits to EU consumers, and many glaring opportunities are missed. For example, there is no possibility to seek redress in case something goes wrong after a transatlantic purchase.

“CETA also includes a system that allows foreign investors to sue a member state or the EU if they think their investment rights have been breached. This system risks lowering the ambition of countries’ consumer protection measures, such as increased labelling obligations. Foreign companies could see these measures as restricting their expected return on investments and sue governments for financial compensation accordingly. This is not acceptable for a so-called progressive and modern agreement."

Malmström had sought to calm concerns over this arbitration system, the Investor-State Dispute Resolution which was reformed and renamed the Investment Court system. "This [new] system guarantees governments' right to regulate. It uses public courts, qualified judges, transparent proceedings, an appeal mechanism and a strict code of ethics."

Protesters had gathered in Brussels and Strasbourg to voice their opposition to the deal.

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© Greenpeace

'The world is watching'

During a heated debate this morning ahead of the vote, in which over 80 MEPs spoke for one minute each, Polish MEP Jarosław Wałęsa of the European People’s Party (EPP) said: “The world is watching.Today we are going to prove our credibility, going to prove that during difficult geopolitical times […] we can still support good trade practices​. It’s one step towards reshaping the world in a positive manner.”

Spanish MEP Elena Valenciano of the Socialists and Democrats said a vote in favour of CETA would place Europe somewhere in between "uncontrolled globalisation and protectionism".

“We must consolidate ourselves with common values,"​ she said. "Canada is a country that shares our values and principles. This agreement is not a panacea but many changes and improvements have been introduced; it is adequate and [goes] in the direction of our particular goals.”

Lola Sánchez Caldentey from the Confederal Group of the European United Left and Nordic Green Left said politicians had forgotten consumers, trade unions, farmers and small business people. We raise our voices and say no to the strengthening and empowerment of multinationals, and say no to CETA.”  

Responding to French politicians' concerns over how the agreement would affect the beef industry, Malmström said they could expect a letter from Commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker and agricultural commissioner Phil Hogan by the end of week which would directly address this. 

"We have taken on board the sensitive nature of the sector, it's a well designed agreement from that point of view," ​she said.

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