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Cecilia Malmström is the European Union's commissioner for trade. Chrystia Freeland is Canada's minister of international trade.

In turbulent political times, both in Europe and on our side of the Atlantic, headlines are too often dominated by division and disagreement, never more so than since last month's news from Britain. We are living today in possibly the most protectionist moment, in many influential parts of the world, and particularly in Western industrialized democracies.

This is all the more reason to sit up and pay attention when governments seek to strengthen partnerships for the mutual benefit of their citizens. The soon-to-be-signed Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, between the European Union and Canada, provides one such opportunity.

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We have always been close partners, and not only because many Canadians trace their families' roots to Europe: Canada and Europe are united because our societies, economies and systems of governance are founded on the same set of values.

We share the belief that while unity is a strength, diversity is equally vital. Canada and the European Union operate in multiple languages and hugely benefit from different cultures within our borders. We are stronger not in spite of our differences, but because of them. We are plugged in economically to the world and to other countries, and we want our borders to be open to trade and to people.

Canadians and Europeans care deeply about environmental stewardship, as demonstrated through our close collaboration, which directly helped achieve a historic global agreement at the 2015 Paris climate conference.

We firmly believe that governments should defend the best interests of their peoples, particularly the most vulnerable. Canada and the EU have strict rules on food safety and consumer protection, in addition to world-class publicly funded health care and other public services.

Crucially, we share a belief that trading and investing with the rest of the world is the clearest path to prosperity for our workers, their families, entrepreneurs and communities. CETA is a reflection of this shared belief.

CETA, which the European Commission proposed formally on Tuesday to EU member states for signature, embodies our shared principles. Not only will it create economic opportunity, it will do so in a progressive way and in keeping with our inclusive values.

CETA is powerful because it is adapted to the needs of 21st-century interconnected economies. We believe it is the most advanced and progressive agreement of its kind to date.

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Why?

First, it will eliminate almost all customs duties from Day 1, faster than nearly any other trade agreement either side has negotiated. EU firms, such as Graffeo Cravatte in Sicily, which pays a 16-per-cent tariff on the ties it exports to Canada, will save hundreds of millions of euros a year in duty payments. Canadian farmers, producers and processors will be able to capitalize on tariff-free access to the EU market for products such as grains and oilseeds, fruit and vegetables, and processed foods.

Second, CETA will facilitate trade in services, such as telecoms, architectural, engineering and transport services. It will make it easier for professionals to travel between the EU and Canada and to connect with new customers, and for professional qualifications to be recognized on both sides of the Atlantic. For example, CETA's provisions that facilitate the ability of companies to move their employees between their Canadian and EU operations will benefit the video-gaming sector in Canada, which has become one of the biggest producers of video games in the world, contributing more than $3-billion to the Canadian economy in 2015. Montreal is now a video-game development hub, with more than 130 studios contributing to the development of some of the most sought-after titles.

Third, CETA breaks new ground when it comes to helping exporters compete for government contracts. Canada will provide EU suppliers with guaranteed access to a wide range of opportunities, from information technology systems to roads to trains, tendered by all levels of government – federal, provincial and local. This is a level of access unprecedented in Canada's international trade agreements. Similarly, Canadian suppliers will benefit from guaranteed access to opportunities tendered at all levels of government in the EU and worth more than $3-trillion.

CETA will benefit smaller firms. Take the German company Reclay, which helps businesses and governments dispose of packaging and waste in a safe, environmentally responsible way. Under CETA, it plans to use new procurement opportunities to share recycling expertise with public authorities. Or look at Prince Edward Island Mussel King investing in its capacity to process high-quality mussels. Last year, Canada exported 85 per cent of its fish and seafood production, $6-billion worth, and huge opportunities exist with lower tariffs.

By increasing business opportunities for companies such as these, CETA will boost growth and create good-quality, export-driven jobs.

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As a progressive agreement, it upholds and promotes values that we share as Europeans and Canadians.

The deal sets global standards on the protection of labour rights and the environment. These chapters of the agreement are without precedent. And we will work together to encourage others around the world – particularly developing countries – to raise their own standards. We will do this in close co-operation with civil society, including trade unions, environmental groups, consumer representatives and business associations.

Investment is vital for growth in a connected global economy. Creating a level playing field that does not discriminate against foreigners encourages more investment.

But we also know that governments need to be free to act in the interests of their citizens.

That's why, in February, we created in our trade agreement a deeply reformed approach reinforcing the sovereign right to regulate, making investor arbitration procedures fairer, independent and more transparent. We also agree that the ultimate goal is an international investment tribunal, as the global community has developed in other areas.

The decision on whether to implement this agreement will be a democratic one – a core principle shared by all of our peoples. We encourage all EU citizens and Canadians to engage now with their parliamentarians and fellow citizens so we can set progressive, broad trade standards for the international community.

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We believe the right choice is for partnership and prosperity, not division and isolation, now more than ever. Now is the time to build bridges, not walls.

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