The Canadian government is one step closer to ratifying a "gold-plated" trade deal with the European Union, says International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland on the agreement in principle reached by the previous Conservative government in 2013.
The Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) is expected to remove 98 per cent of EU tariffs on a wide range of Canadian products.
"This is really a gold-plated trade deal. It is going to bring tremendous benefit to Canadians and to Europeans, we are going to feel it all in a real increase in prosperity," Freeland said in Ottawa on Monday.
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Freeland announced that some amendments have been made to a controversial investment protection clause which had become a sticking point in negotiations between the two countries.
"I'm absolutely confident that Canadian investors and Canadian businesses will have their rights fully protected in this agreement," Freeland said.
Freeland said the modifications were made as part of the legal review of the English text of the CETA deal.
The minister said the amendments include:
- A reformed and permanent investment dispute settlement system.
- A revised process for the selection of tribunal members who will adjudicate investors claims.
- The introduction of an appeals system.
"There have been some modifications to the investment chapter to reflect the shared intent of Canada and the EU to strengthen our provisions on the right to regulate," Freeland said.
"We strongly believe that we have responded to Canadians, to EU citizens, to businesses with a fair, transparent and impartial system."
The minister said she hopes the deal will be ratified later this year and come into force some time in 2017.
EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, who was in Brussels for the announcement, said today's agreement is "a clear break" from the old approach.
"By making the system work like an international court, these changes will ensure that citizens can trust it to deliver fair and objective judgments," Malmström said in a written statement.
Conservative trade critic Gerry Ritz said his party welcomed the legal review and urged the Liberals to ratify not just the trade deal with the EU, but also the Trans-Pacific Partnership which the Conservatives secured during the recent election campaign.
"CETA should be ratified immediately as should the TPP which would make Canada the only G7 country with free-trade access to the United States, Europe, Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region," Ritz said in a written statement sent to CBC News.
"If Canada is 'back', why is the Liberal government failing to lead on the biggest multilateral trade agreement in over 20 years."
The two countries will now translate and review the deal's text in French and in the 21 other EU treaty languages.
Investment provisions spark debate
Freeland said she heard "no opposition" to CETA when she held consultations across the country.
But the Council of Canadians, which had been in Europe trying to mobilize opposition to the investor-to-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism, said today's announcement was "smoke and mirrors."
"It still enshrines corporate rights and enables giant European corporations to sue the Canadian government," said Garry Neil, executive director of the Council of Canadians in a written statement.
"Tinkering with the dispute settlement process doesn't change this fundamental flaw."
Adam Taylor, who worked as a senior adviser to former Conservative minister Ed Fast during the negotiations, said while the ISDS mechanism negotiated by the Conservatives was consistent with other deals, negotiations between the U.S. and the EU forced Canada back to the table.
"It was prudent to renegotiate this section in order to preserve the wider gains in every other aspect of the agreement," said Taylor, now director at Ensight Canada's international trade practice, in a phone interview with CBC News.
Taylor said the debate has been "hijacked" by those who oppose trade agreements when investment clauses are there to protect businesses from foreign governments making arbitrary decisions.
Tracey Ramsey, trade critic for the NDP, said the party has some concerns.
"We want to look at the details and are concerned that environmental laws could still be challenged under the new rules," Ramsey said in a written statement sent to CBC News.
Ramsey said Monday's announcement also raises questions for the Trans-Pacific Partnership which Freeland signed earlier this month.
"If the old rules were such a threat in CETA, surely she can't ratify them in TPP."
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said while today's announcement includes some improvements to the appointment of arbitrators and the government's right to regulate, there are still problems with the dispute process.
"Under CETA, foreign investors will still be able to attack state decisions in areas ranging from agriculture to consumer protection to public health to the environment," May said in a written statement.
"This means tribunals can still order vast payouts to foreign investors without having to go through Canadian courts."
'Green' trade deal: McKenna
Freeland was joined by Catherine McKenna, the minister for the environment and climate change, who touted the agreement with the EU as "a green trade deal."
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McKenna said the CETA deal will make it easier for Canadian businesses to tap into emerging clean-tech markets.
"CETA stands to remove trade barriers, widely expand free trade between Canada and the European Union and increase opportunity for the middle class at a time when we need to foster innovation and create good jobs as we move to a low-carbon economy."
"This agreement protects the government's legitimate objective of protecting the environment," McKenna said on Parliament hill Monday.
Monday's announcement comes ahead of a much-anticipated meeting between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the premiers in Vancouver later this week to lay the foundation for a new climate plan for the country.
McKenna said that after this week's discussions with Canada's premiers and territorial leaders, the government will consult widely before the details for a national plan are made public in six months from now.
"While everyone knows we need to reduce emissions, having a plan to get there requires work," McKenna said.
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