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Prime Minister Stephen Harper, left, watches President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso speaks as they announce a free-trade agreement between Canada and Europe during a press conference in Brussels on Friday Oct. 18, 2013
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, left, watches President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso speaks as they announce a free-trade agreement between Canada and Europe during a press conference in Brussels on Friday Oct. 18, 2013

Canada, EU unveil ‘historic' free-trade agreement Add to ...

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper hailed the Canada-European Union trade agreement as an historic opportunity for Canada even though the deal has yet to be finalized.

Mr. Harper and EU President Jose Manuel Barroso announced the agreement Friday at a joint press conference in Brussels.

“This is a big deal,” Mr. Harper said at a news conference. “Indeed it is the biggest deal our country has ever made. This is a historic win for Canada.”

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Added Mr. Barroso: “Today is the beginning of a new era for the European Union and Canada.”

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, goes far beyond the North American Free Trade Agreement and is designed to eliminate thousands of tariffs, encourage foreign investment and promote movement of labour. Once implemented, 98 per cent of EU and Canadian tariffs will be eliminated immediately. That includes 95 per cent of EU tariffs on agriculture products such as grains, Canola and fruit. Other tariffs and restrictions will be phased out over seven years.

But the text of the deal has yet to be released, mainly because it has to be translated into the EU’s 24 languages. It must also be approved by all 28 EU members as well as Canada’s provinces and territories. That process could take two years.

Mr. Barroso expressed confidence the deal would be in place by 2015, although some countries have raised concerns. He said the agreement can be adopted provisionally while the ratification process is underway. “I expect the European Union member states to agree on this agreement because we kept them informed,” he said, adding that it has been well received. “I don’t see any reason to have doubts about its effective implementation. If I saw it, I would say it.”

Mr. Harper too played down the approval process saying the provinces are on side and that he expects the deal to be in place by the next election in 2015.

“The agreement as it now stands is not going to change,” he said. “I am certainly confident of its adoption in Canada. I think anyone who opposes it will lose and will make a big historic mistake in so doing.”

The deal will have far reaching impacts, touching just about every sector of the Canadian economy as well as millions of workers and consumers. The final result could see Canadians paying less for thousands of products made in Europe, such as cars, which are currently subject to a 6 per cent tariff. European companies will also be able to bid on large provincial and municipal government contracts. Canadian companies and farmers will gain open access to the EU for hundreds of products, some of which now face tariffs as high as 12 per cent.

Canada has been eager to reach the trade deal, believing access to the EU’s $17-trillion economy will boost gross domestic product by $12-billion and create 80,000 jobs. The EU is Canada’s second largest trading partner, far behind the United States.

However, some sectors of the Canadian economy will feel the effects. The EU has gained a much larger share of the Canadian cheese market, with a quota on imports increasing to around 30,000 tonnes from the current level of 13,000. Federal officials said they are working with provincial governments on a compensation program for dairy farmers. Drug companies will get longer protection, of about two years, for their patents, meaning lower cost generics won’t be available as early in Canada. A compensation program for generic firms is also under consideration, federal officials said. And Canadian auto manufacturers, while gaining larger access to the EU market, will still face some restrictions going forward.

EU companies will also have an easier time taking over Canadian businesses. The threshold for the government to launch a review of a takeover by EU companies will be set at $1.5-billion, as opposed to $1-billion for other takeovers.

Mr. Harper acknowledged that some Canadians will be hurt by the deal, but he said compensation is being considered and that the overall benefits of the pact outweigh any problems. “This agreement is vastly positive for the Canadian economy across the board,” he said. “There are some negative effects on a few sectors in the very short term … this is not just a big deal, it is a very, very positive deal for Canada.”

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