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The Globe and Mail

It’s tough to win over a couple of dozen EU countries at a time

Some day, the pro-Brexit voters of Britain may be sorry that they rejected the European Union. They will experience the terrible fragmentation that Canada is now suffering, as we try to coax all the 28 European parliaments to vote for the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between the EU and Canada.

Not so long ago, it seemed quite easy for the EU to sign on the dotted line with Canada. Back in early July, however, the European Commission changed the process, and gave up the fast-track ratification process for the proposed treaty for the whole EU, which would have bypassed the many legislatures of the member nations.

Already various interest groups in various EU countries were circling the wagons. Without fast-track ratification for CETA, even more pressure groups gathered around.

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Chrystia Freeland, Canada's Minister of International Trade, is faced with the daunting task of persuading all 28 parliaments – often in turn fragmented by multi-party politics (affected by proportional representation) – to consent to one trade treaty, with the hope of actually concluding it quite soon, in October.

At the moment, the eyes are on Austria, not one of the larger members of the EU. Chancellor Christian Kern, a Social-Democrat, is leaning against CETA, while his conservative colleague in the governing coalition (from the Austrian People's Party), Reinhold Mitterlehner, the Vice-Chancellor, favours CETA.

This pattern is found in many European countries. It's surprising that a "middle power" such as Canada has become so controversial in the large, heavily populated continent of Europe.

The explanation may well be that the controversy about Canada and CETA is mostly a skirmish in preparation for an expected struggle over the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement between the United States and Europe.

In spite of all that, TTIP may not happen for a long time. The U.S. Congress, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (for all their differences) are showing very little interest in any vast trade agreement.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ms. Freeland are no sinister economic imperialists bent on taking over Europe. Let Canada and the EU go ahead with CETA. TTIP is far, far away.

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