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CETA: The good, the bad and the ugly | The World Weekly

The last stand of the Walloons was short-lived. When Canada’s trade representative walked out of an emergency meeting on the verge of tears, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the EU appeared to have been felled by Belgium’s plucky regional assemblies. Just over a week later Prime Minister Justin Trudeau flew into Brussels to sign the pact.

The ensuing love-in showed the “disintegration of the Western community does not need to become a lasting trend”, declared an emotional Donald Tusk, who chairs meetings of EU leaders. But CETA’s computer-crashing length lends itself to controversy and the EU is struggling to convince its citizens that trade deals are a tried and tested way of getting the economy to recover some of its lost vim. Even as Mr. Tusk spoke, protesters tossed red paint and tried to storm the building.

The European Commission reckons CETA will boost EU output by €11.8 billion ($13.3 billion) every year. The deal removes 99% of tariffs, opens up public tenders and makes some headway against ‘non-tariff barriers’ such as conflicting product standards.

Yet a boost amounting to 0.08% of GDP is hardly a mind-bending reward for five years of haggling. Indeed some economists, such as Pierre Kohler and Servaas Storm of Tufts University in the US, think that further liberalisation will do more harm than good in the current context of high unemployment and low growth.

Along with the now moribund Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the EU and US, CETA is part of a new generation of trade deals that critics claim give multinational companies undue sway over elected governments, potentially undermining workers’ rights, consumer standards and environmental protections. Of particular concern to activists is the Investment Court System, which will allow companies to sue over changes in policy that hurt their profits.

“Right from the start CETA has been an example of how not to do a trade deal – absolute secrecy through five years of negotiations, zero input from civil society groups, and disdain for any opposition to the deal from the public," Mark Dearn, senior trade campaigner at War on Want, told TWW. He added that "now is not the time for the EU institutions to wilfully ignore the very valid concerns of EU citizens".

The EU and Canada claim they are “committed to ensure that economic growth, social development and environmental protection are mutually supportive”. The deal can now be implemented provisionally, but as parliaments debate whether to ratify it fully the battle will continue to rage.

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