European trade agreement removes tariffs, raises concerns

by | Oct 18, 2013 | News

By Josh McConnell

Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes questions following a joint press conference with Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission in Brussels on Oct. 18, 2013. (Photo credit: PMO)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes questions following a joint press conference with Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission in Brussels on Oct. 18, 2013.
(Photo credit: PMO)

Canada and Europe announced plans Friday for the largest trade agreement in Canadian history, according to the federal government.

The Canadian Government and European Union have announced the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) in a joint-news conference.

“In scope, this agreement is by far the most ambitious trade partnership that Canada has ever negotiated,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said at the conference in Brussels. “Not just goods, but also services, labour mobility, investment, procurement (including subnational procurement) and many regulatory matters.”

The free trade agreement means Canadian businesses will have access to a half-billion new customers, said Harper.

Both Harper and European Commission president Jose Manual Barroso signed a tentative deal in Brussels shortly before their official announcement.

But the provisions of the trade deal have not been made public yet. Harper remained vague in his talking points during his speech.

“When this agreement is enforced, businesses that provide technical services in fields such as engineering, construction, architecture and many others will have unprecedented access to the European market,” Harper said.

“Equally important, Canadian families will have greater access to European goods at a lower cost as 98 per cent of tariffs, both ways, will be removed immediately upon implementation of this agreement.”

Dairy a major concern for Canadian producers

Not everyone is excited about the new free trade agreement with Europe.

Specifically, cheese manufacturers said they are concerned Canada would lose its small, artisan and local cheese makers.

“This deal would displace our local products with subsidized cheeses from EU and risk our small businesses being shut down or put out of business,” said the Dairy Farmers of Canada in a written statement.

“It would take income from Canadian dairy farmers and their communities and give it to the European industry.”

But the federal government said any loss revenue for Canadian cheese producers will be minimal and temporary. Harper said this specific sector “will be the subject of compensation by the Canadian government.”

Strain on Canada’s water supply

The new free trade agreement is going to further hurt Canada’s water supply, which is already strained by multiple agriculture sectors, according to the Council of Canadians.

“To protect our precious watersheds, what we need is more sustainable and local food production, not massive new trade deals that will strain our water sources beyond their capacity,” said Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians, in a statement.

“Beef producers can now export close to 70,000 tonnes of beef to Europe and an undisclosed but higher amount of pork. Meat production is highly water intensive. It takes over 15 million litres of water to produce one tonne of beef.”

Part of our heritage

The federal government’s selling point for the agreement is that trading is a major foundation for Canada and part of our heritage.

“We’ve always been a trading nation, from Aboriginal times to the days of French and British traders who first laid the foundations of our modern economy,” Harper said.

“Today, one in five jobs in Canada is tied to trade. Our trade is equivalent to 60 per cent of our Gross Domestic Product.”

The federal government has also posted their own list of CETA benefits.

The final deal will now begin a legal review process, the federal government said. The deal is also pending the support of Canadian provinces and European countries.

Both Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair have publicly said that they will not comment on the CETA until the full text has been released.