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Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper signs documents following a meeting meets with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso Friday, October 18, 2013 at the European Commission in Brussels. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper signs documents following a meeting meets with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso Friday, October 18, 2013 at the European Commission in Brussels. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Globe editorial

The EU agreement: more than just cheese and cattle Add to ...

The Throne Speech’s poky promises of pick-and-pay cable and lower roaming fees have absolutely nothing on the far more significant pledges to consumers contained in the trade agreement struck between Canada and the European Union.

The Comprehensive Trade Agreement should be a no-brainer. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, describing this as “a big deal...the biggest deal our country has ever made,” may be overstating the case. But not by much.

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If ratified by the 28 EU-member countries and 10 Canadian provinces, CETA could change everything from the cost of repairing your Volkswagen (less) to how much you pay for your prescription drugs (more). For Mr. Harper, it is an achievement. CETA is the first major trade deal Canada has negotiated since NAFTA, 20 years ago. It represents a golden opportunity for Canadian exporters to diversify sales away from the United States and gain preferential access to the world’s largest economy.

Yes, yes, European cheese makers will be allowed to ship an extra 17,000 metric tonnes of the stuff tariff-free to Canada, much to the consternation of Canadian dairy farmers (who will, no doubt, be compensated). And yes, European pharmaceutical companies will be able to extend their 20-year patent protection for two extra years, driving up the costs of some drugs.

But the potential benefits to Canadian exporters are striking. The door will be open for Canadian car manufacturers to send up to 10 times as many cars to Europe. Cattle farmers will be able to sell $600-million of duty-free beef to Europe, a “game-changer,” according to the Canadian Cattlemen’s association. Ottawa also believes CETA will encourage more foreign investment from European companies looking for a launchpad into the U.S.

Most importantly, Canadian consumers will pay less almost every time they buy European goods. Though it’s barely mentioned by the Harper government, that’s the big payoff. Free trade is mostly about benefiting buyers, not sellers. Everything from a new BMW to a bottle of French booze will face lower or no tariffs. If Ottawa can seal the deal, and the agreement is all it’s touted to be, it’s time to crack open the champagne – which will cost less than before.

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