Canada, Europe 'not building walls', says EU trade chief

Canada and the European Union are "powerful partners" in a fight to combat the protectionist, anti-trade rhetoric that has gained momentum in the United States and United Kingdom, the EU's Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom tells Power & Politics' Rosemary Barton.

'We send a very powerful message' in post-Brexit, post-Trump world, says Cecilia Malmstrom on visit

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom who is in Canada for a two-day visit, to meet with her Canadian counterparts said she wants CETA to be a blueprint for future trade agreements. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)

Canada and the European Union are powerful partners in the fight to combat the protectionist, anti-trade rhetoric that has gained momentum in the United States and United Kingdom, says the EU's Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom. 

"We're not closing barriers, we're not building walls," Europe's top trade chief told CBC News Network's Power & Politics, in reference to U.S. President Donald Trump and his campaign promise to build a wall along the Mexico border.

"We stand up to fair trade, to good trade, transparent trade, sustainable trade, a trade where we both win," she told host Rosemary Barton.

Malmstrom was in Canada for a two-day visit, meeting with Canadian counterpart Francois-Philippe Champagne and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, with whom she worked closely during last year's final negotiations of CETA, the Canada-EU trade deal that comes into provisional effect in the coming weeks.

Touted by officials on both sides as the gold standard in trade deals, CETA will be the template for future accords with other countries, Malmstrom hopes.

CETA "is setting a role model for us," she said. "We want to have this as a blueprint for many other trade agreements."

Malmstrom says she is currently negotiating deals with about 20 partners around the world, including Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

EU takes up trade mantle

In the wake of last year's unexpected one-two political punch of Brexit and Trump's win, the EU isn't wasting time bolstering its ambitious trade agenda — or shoring up its own credibility as a global champion of free trade, according to Patrick Leblond, an international trade specialist at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont.

It's not just Europe with a leadership role to play on the world stage — Canada too is positioned alongside the EU to push for more open borders and trade, he added.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau poses for a photo with then-International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, right, and EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom following the signing of CETA in October 2016. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

"You need a counterbalance to the protectionist message coming out of the United States, and Canada and the EU will need to co-operate in case the U.S. decides to start launching trade wars at everyone, raising tariffs, blocking other countries' access to the U.S. market," he said.

"That will require a unified response. Canada has been talking the talk and seems to be willing to walk the walk, and the Europeans seem to be doing the same."

Malmstrom admitted the EU is "worried about some of the signs" coming out of the United States, including possible border taxes and high tariffs.

"We need to see exactly what they are planning," she said. "The rest of the world will have to see how to respond."

U.S. deal still on table

For now, Malmstrom is hopeful a potential trade deal can still be reached between Europe and the United States.

"We still think there's a good case for facilitating trade," she told Barton, noting that there are several obstacles standing in the way, including the fact that it doesn't seem "to be an immediate priority for the [Trump] administration."

'We're not building walls,' says the European Union's trade commissioner

5 years ago
Duration 11:07
Cecilia Malmstrom tells Rosemary Barton that Canada and the EU 'send a very powerful message' on free trade.

Former President Barack Obama began trade talks with Europe — known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership — but Trump promised to scrap it during his campaign. 

"As soon as [the Trump administration] is fully in place, we will liaise and see if there's anything, if we can restart those negotiations," said Malmstrom. 

But for the moment, she added, TTIP is "in the freezer."

US President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel's 'frosty' meeting in Washington March 17 doesn't bode well for future trade talks between the U.S. and Europe, says international trade expert Patrick Leblond. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Leblond doesn't share Malmstrom's optimism that the deal could be revived. 

"I certainly would not see any deal during the next four years," he said. "Certainly with the type of frosty meeting that took place between Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week, it doesn't bode well for such an agreement. There's a long way to go to even bring the two sides back to the negotiating table."

Brexit 'will be difficult negotiations'

​Malmstrom also touched on challenges facing the EU once the United Kingdom officially begins the Brexit process March 29. 

"It will be complicated," she said. "But the United Kingdom is a friend, it's an ally, a neighbour. We need to find a good way to coexist in the future, but it will be difficult negotiations."

Although she dismissed the idea of the EU having the "upper hand" in Brexit talks, Malmstrom was firm that the United Kingdom isn't in a position to pick and choose.

"They have chosen to leave. I'm sad about that, but that is their decision, we respect it," she said. "But they have chosen to leave. If you're not part of the internal market, then you cannot cherry pick."


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