The European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday approved the Canada-EU trade agreement after a noisy and sometimes emotional debate.

Roughly 58 per cent of the members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted to ratify the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), setting the stage for provisional application of nearly 90 per cent of the agreement later this spring. 

"This is a deal for the people," International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne said after the vote, emphasizing how the agreement will offer consumers more choice and lower costs.

"Trade is a good thing for the world," he said.

"By adopting CETA, we chose openness, and growth and high standards over protectionism and stagnation," said Artis Pabriks from the European People's Party, calling Canada an "ally we can rely on."

"Together we can build bridges, instead of a wall, for the prosperity of our citizens. CETA will be a lighthouse for future trade deals all over the world."

The final vote saw most of the MEPs representing Europe's centrist parties voting in favour, with opposition from members representing left-leaning socialist and Green as well as right-wing, nationalist parties. 

Of the 695 MEPs present in the 751-seat legislature, 408 voted in favour, 254 against and 33 abstained.

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Members of the European Parliament voted 408-254 Wednesday to approve the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Canada. (Vincent Kessler/Reuters)

A close vote would have made it more difficult to rally enthusiasm across Europe to implement the deal.

On Parliament Hill on Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked what's in the deal for Canadians.

"Good jobs," he said. "We know that trade leads to good middle-class jobs."

When asked if this was a vote of confidence amid U.S. protectionism, he said: "When you put forward a progressive trade deal that takes in account the responsibility of governments to ... create inclusive growth, not just for a few, but for everyone, that focuses on the middle class, we can move forward on globalization."

'EU trade policy will never be the same'

Observers noted that this margin is smaller than the 75 per cent approval vote in 2011 for the EU's trade agreement with South Korea.

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French politician Yannick Jadot, left, the Green Party candidate for the 2017 French presidential election, was among the members of the European Parliament who voted against CETA. (Vincent Kessler/Reuters)

But CETA is a more ambitious deal.

Not only does it drop or phase out nearly all existing tariffs and grant new market access for a wide range of products including agricultural commodities, but it opens up government procurement to foreign companies.

CETA also brings in common certification for goods and services, recognizes professional credentials and harmonizes labour and environmental standards between the two trading partners.

Opponents to the deal mobilized street protests across Europe and placed intense pressure on politicians to reject the deal, arguing that it was a threat to sovereignty and could allow Canadian subsidiaries of large American corporations to sue governments if they passed regulations that hurt business interests.

"Behind the scenes, MEPs have been fighting the corner of EU citizens to secure unprecedented changes," said Scottish Labour MEP David Martin. "CETA is not the perfect deal, but we can look back and be very proud of what we have achieved in this process."

"This is a watershed moment. EU trade policy will never be the same again," he said.

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Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's National Front party and also a member of the European Parliament, was among the right-wing nationalist votes opposing CETA. (Vincent Kessler/Reuters)

"The intense exchanges on CETA throughout this process are testimony to the democratic nature of European decision making," said European President Jean-Claude Juncker, calling it "an opportunity to shape globalization together." 

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom — who worked closely with Chrystia Freeland, Canada's former trade minister and now minister of foreign affairs, to see CETA through to its dramatic signing last October — promised citizens and companies would start reaping benefits very soon.

MEPs also approved an EU-Canada Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) covering non-trade issues such as foreign and security policy, counter-terrorism, fighting organised crime, sustainable development, research and culture. That vote passed by a larger margin, 506-142, with 43 abstentions.

Advocates said they wanted to show solidarity with Canada in the face of aggressive trade threats and rising protectionism in the United States.

Failing to pass CETA was seen as potentially devastating to the future of the EU's trade policy overall at a time when the trading bloc is already facing difficulties like the pending exit of the United Kingdom.

Champagne watched the vote along with a Canadian delegation that included former Quebec premier Jean Charest, a champion of the deal going back to the start of negotiations in 2009.

Champagne called CETA "the right deal at the right time."

Provisional application later this spring

The House of Commons passed C-30, Canada's implementation legislation, at third reading Tuesday.

Both Liberals and Conservatives — who were in power when the deal was negotiated — supported it. The NDP, Bloc Québécois and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May voted against.

"These trade deals, for the past several decades, have actually been reducing wages and working conditions for Canadian workers," NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said Wednesday. "We're always being told that they're great things, that they're going to bring lots of jobs ... I want [Trudeau] to start giving numbers."

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Demonstrators continued to protest the Canada-EU trade agreement in Strasbourg on Wednesday. Civil society groups and trade unions across Europe have pressured politicians to amend or reject the deal. (Vincent Kessler/Reuters)

Once C-30 clears the Senate, federal laws and regulations will change to bring Canada into compliance. 

Similar changes need to be made at the provincial and territorial level as well.

Once Canada finishes this, over 90 per cent of the agreement may come into force provisionally. A release from the EU suggested this could be the case as early as April 1.

Full implementation requires votes in national and regional parliaments across the EU.

The agreement's investor court provisions, which give corporations the ability to sue when government decisions harm business interests, remain controversial.

This part of the agreement was already rewritten once last year to overcome opposition, and further amendments are possible before individual countries' ratification votes proceed.

Trudeau is on his way to Strasbourg now to speak to the European Parliament on Thursday, trying to keep the momentum of this vote going and rally more enthusiasm for the deal's advantages.

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