Cheaper goods could be arriving sooner than expected as efforts are under way to speed up the implementation of the free-trade deal between Canada and the European Union.
EU officials are currently looking at whether there are parts of the deal that do not require approval of the 28 member states and could be launched before the agreement is officially ratified.
A Canadian trade lawyer said Ottawa has the power to do the same and could eliminate tariffs and restrictions on temporary foreign workers from Europe as a sign of good faith while provinces debate the full agreement. A Canadian government official said full ratification here would likely be faster than in Europe, meaning there would not be a need for provisional measures from Canada.
Both Canada and the EU have estimated it would likely take until 2015 for the deal to be finalized, translated, debated and approved by the Canadian Parliament, the provinces and territories, the European Parliament and all 28 EU member states.
But in an interview with The Globe and Mail, Marie-Anne Coninsx, the EU's ambassador to Canada, said work was under way to see if some parts could be approved on a "provisional" basis.
"We are counting that the real entry into force might be 2015, but it's not excluded – and that we are verifying too – that a provisional entry into force of some of the parts might be possible," she said.
The Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement between Canada and the EU is a wide-ranging trade deal that would eliminate tariffs on a vast majority of traded goods. At the moment, it is only an agreement-in-principle and no final text has been released.
The ambassador did not specify which parts of the deal could be enacted early, but said the European Parliament might be able to approve parts of the agreement that fall under its exclusive jurisdiction. The remaining sections that involve state-level policy could come into force later, once all 28 states have ratified the deal.
Trade lawyer Lawrence Herman said Ottawa and the EU could act quickly on the matters they control, such as easing foreign worker rules. "I think that could be done provisionally, absolutely," he said, noting that France's Total SA, for example, would likely be eager to bring in French workers to its facilities in Alberta, where labour is in short supply.
"That could be done easily, I think, between Alberta and Canada," he said. "And it would be a good idea to do it."
Adam Taylor, a spokesperson for International Trade Minister Ed Fast, said in an e-mail that both sides "are committed to bringing the agreement into force as soon as possible."
Ms. Coninsx said the deal's provisions around foreign workers were a win for Europe and would also benefit parts of Canada, such as Alberta, where there are labour shortages.
"They [Alberta] have a shortage of high-qualified personnel workers – in particular, I would say, in the energy sector – and would be extremely keen of having temporary workers coming from Europe," she said. "You know the situation of employment in some European countries is not so good. It's good in certain countries, but not so good in other countries and there will be a big interest. The CETA gives the possibility for temporary movement mobility."
The ambassador said the EU is looking at whether provisional sections could be in place after the EU Parliament has approved the deal, but before it has been ratified by each of the 28 member states. She also said there is a small possibility the additional step of a ratification vote by each member state may not be necessary. If that step is avoided, it would also speed up the implementation of the deal.
Canada has highlighted the expected benefits for agricultural exports and generally lower prices for consumers. Ms. Coninsx said the EU is pleased to secure more Canadian fish, beef and other agricultural products. It is also pleased that EU companies would be able to bid on provincial and municipal procurement contracts, she said.
So far the deal is getting a positive reception in Europe, Ms. Coninsx added.
"One of the reasons being it brings very clear benefits to both parties," she said. "It's a very balanced agreement. Even in very sensitive issues, it's balanced. I think it's seldom you get such positive reaction from everybody."