At a time when the pillars of multilateral trade are teetering, under assault from protectionist forces of both the left and the right, Canada is swimming against the current.
On Wednesday, the European Parliament voted strongly in favour of CETA: the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. There will still be votes in Europe's national parliaments, but after so much wailing and gnashing of teeth, and after a period of doubt, it looks as if CETA will prevail.
It makes for a happy contrast to what's happening in Washington. There, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the North American Free Trade Agreement are under fire from both sides of the political spectrum. This month, President Donald Trump hammered the final nail into U.S. participation in the TPP; the Democratic Party, his opponent on other issues, cheered. NAFTA also seems doomed to being ripped up or renegotiated. The American push for trade restrictions is now bipartisan.
What a contrast to Canada, where the two major parties, which disagree on so many things, are both still pro-trade. Both favoured TPP. And the Canada-EU deal was negotiated by the Harper Conservative government, and concluded by an equally trade-positive Liberal team. Chrystia Freeland, now the Foreign Affairs Minister, but formerly the international trade minister, was right to put a strenuous effort into bringing this treaty across the finish line.
Trade between Canada and the European Union will never be huge, at least not relative to Canada-U.S. trade. And thanks to multilateral deals such as the WTO, Canada-EU trade is already highly free. CETA marginally improves an already good situation.
It also puts Canada in an advantageous position: We have a free trade deal with the world's two largest economies, the EU and the U.S. They will not have a comparable deal with each other for years, if ever. As trade clouds darken, there's Canada's silver lining.