CETA puts Canada’s trade debate to rest once and for all

Jason Langrish is executive director of the Canada Europe Roundtable for Business.

After seven years of at times tortuous negotiations and approvals, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement was finally signed by leaders in Brussels.

Throughout the process, which spanned two governments and three different trade ministers in Canada alone, the mainstream focus on CETA was mainly limited to the benefits of liberalized trade.

Now that CETA has been signed and will shortly be tabled for ratification, a closer look at the broader economic and geopolitical benefits that the agreement will deliver to Canada and the European Union is warranted.

The rationale for launching CETA in Canada was in large part to establish a measure of diversification from the country’s trade relations within the North American free-trade agreement.

Given the tone around trade in the U.S. presidential election, this decision now looks especially prescient.

For Europe, CETA represented an effort to establish a next-generation agreement with a transatlantic partner that could help set the terms of trade of investment in light of a failure to do so at the World Trade Organization.

Without more advanced rules for the protection of intellectual property, the mobility of professionals, fair access to procurement contracts and the elimination of technical barriers to trade, the knowledge economy in particular would remain woefully unprotected in the realms of international commerce.

This is of obvious benefit to countries such as China, whose preference for weaker rules as they seek to advance their economic interests is well known.

While Europe’s effort to secure an even larger, if less comprehensive, pact with the United States is unlikely to bear fruit for several years, the process has at least been begun.

CETA will put pressure on the United States to seriously negotiate with the European Union for fear of its companies losing ground to Canadian firms in the massive European marketplace.

And why is this? In addition to the obvious export opportunities in Europe as a result of CETA, the agreement will place Canada at the centre of a duty-free hub that extends from the southern tip of Mexico to the eastern borders of Poland, encapsulating close to one billion people.

It will not be lost on foreign investors from around the world that Canada presents a location through which to build their supply chains and take advantage of the provisions for the tariff-free, red-tape-reduced and investment-protected features of Canada’s geo-economic positioning as a result of its CETA and NAFTA treaties.

American firms will look to the Canadian market as a place to invest as a way to secure duty-free market access into the 500-million-person EU market, representing a potentially significant and unexpected benefit of CETA for Canada.

As the tide turns on globalization and the completion of future free-trade agreements becomes increasingly unlikely in the near term, Canada will enjoy early-mover status in the EU marketplace for years to come.

Canada will be seen as a place that welcomes foreign investment, skilled workers and embraces trade and open markets with its partners around the world.

For Europe, CETA proves that the EU is still relevant and can deliver tangible benefits to its citizens. This is especially important at a time when protectionist, anti-EU parties are making gains in countries through the continent on the heels of Britain’s Brexit vote earlier this year.

In Canada, the signing of CETA once and for all puts to rest the debate over whether free trade is a good thing. The negotiations and approvals process spanned Conservative and Liberal governments, who each remained fully committed to its conclusion.

Publicly, CETA was refreshingly free of the infighting and resistance that the free-trade agreement with the United States and its successor NAFTA endured. Indeed, this is a very good day for both Canada and the EU.

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