When the European Union and Canada began negotiating their comprehensive trade and investment agreement, a coterie of EU ambassadors headed across the Atlantic.
Their mission was to discover how Canadian provinces felt about a deal, and whether they would scuttle the negotiations or fail to implement provisions.
The Europeans knew Canada. Certain provinces had delayed implementing provisions of previous international trade deals. Would the past just repeat itself?
Except in Newfoundland, the provincial response toward an EU deal was positive. Moreover, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government brought provincial representatives into the negotiations. For sticky issues toward the end of the negotiations, such as additional cheese quotas from the EU, the Harper government literally bought out provincial objections by promising compensation for domestic producers.
Ottawa negotiated hard and well, as did the Europeans. Mr. Harper never wavered in wanting an agreement with the EU, a deal that goes beyond trade into services, investment and many other areas. He and his government deserve kudos for what they accomplished.
For Canada, this is the most comprehensive trade agreement ever negotiated. As the smaller party by far, Canada stands to gain from the deal – if the Canadian business community seizes the opportunity. It's a big if; there's no guarantee that it will. But in theory, the agreement should create economic opportunities for Canadian business in Europe, and vice versa. How much depends entirely on the private sector.
The search for a Canada-EU trade deal goes back to the mid-1990s, when Roy MacLaren was prime minister Jean Chrétien's trade minister. It was always the Europeans who were uninterested, until their thinking began to change about a decade ago. Then, it appeared that any obstacles would largely be found in Canada.
Instead, all is clear for the deal just initialled in Ottawa. The problems, real or potential, lie in the European Union.
In Germany, in the European Parliament and in scattered other places, there is opposition to certain provisions in the EU-Canada deal. But, more importantly, the agreement risks being held hostage to opposition to an EU trade and investment agreement being negotiated with the United States.
The EU always considered the Canadian deal a template for an eventual U.S. agreement. This was among the reasons why Europe began to look favourably on negotiating with Canada.
But European critics are now looking at the Canadian deal and asking whether Europe could accept certain clauses if they were part of a deal with a much larger entity. Anti-Canadianism does not exist in Europe, although bitumen oil and the Canadian seal hunt are unpopular in certain quarters. But anti-Americanism does live on there, especially but not exclusively on the political left. Nobody serious in the EU fears big, bad Canada, but people do fear the big, bad United States.
The one issue that seems most troublesome involves investor protection against state action that infringes on corporations' rights and property. The provision would allow investors to sue governments – as has happened in Canada within the North American Free Trade Agreement.
This bothers some on the political left, which is why Germany's Social Democratic Party has voted Yes to trade negotiations but No to any agreement with that provision. The SPD is part of Germany's coalition government and therefore an important player in any eventual decision.
The investor-state provision is also drawing fire in the European Parliament, where some see the entire deal as a harbinger for a deal with the United States.
Canada negotiated with the European Commission, which is responsible for trade policy in the EU. The commission believes that it did the job. Now, it's up to European Parliament alone to ratify or not.
Some member states insist that elements of the treaty infringe on their sovereign power. Therefore, all 28 EU member states must approve the Canadian deal, in addition to the European Parliament – a recipe for trouble.
Who would have guessed there would be clear sailing in Canada and unsettled weather in the EU when these talks began?