Chrystia Freeland heads on tour to save trade deal with European Union

Canada's trade minister is flying to meetings in different countries over the coming week in an attempt to save a trade agreement with the European Union.

Freeland: protectionist sentiment in the U.S. is complicating Canada's ability to reach a new softwood deal

International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland says completing CETA would help demonstrate that despite growing anti-trade sentiment deals can still be done between willing partners. (CBC)

Canada's trade minister is flying to meetings in different countries over the coming week in an attempt to save a trade agreement with the European Union now imperilled by anti-globalization sentiment.

Chrystia Freeland will meet European politicians at a progressive forum in Montreal, speak in Germany to a congress of the centre-left Social Democratic party, then address a supper gathering of European trade ministers in Slovakia.

The agreement faces opposition in Europe from left and right.

On the left, Austria's chancellor recently predicted it would be the continent's next big political conflict. On the right, France's National Front calls the agreement a Trojan horse for American interests and warns it's the prelude to a similar deal with the U.S. that would hurt French farmers.

Freeland says it's important to ratify the agreement and demonstrate that anti-globalization forces can be beaten. She said she hopes to have it completed in time for a Canada-EU summit in October, and ratified by European lawmakers early next year.

"It is a very big focus of mine right now — and of the prime minister," Freeland told a news conference Wednesday.

"We see CETA as an important deal, not just for Canada and Europe, but also very powerful, today, in this protectionist moment as a way for Canada and Europe to push back against the anti-globalization sentiment and to show that a progressive trade agreement can be done."

Looming litigation over softwood?

She said the Liberals have been trying to address concerns over matters such as labour rights, environmental standards and investor-state dispute settlement rules. Freeland said three years after the Harper government announced an agreement-in-principle, the ratification process was paralyzed; "CETA was stalled."

She made the remarks to reporters in the U.S., where the trade-bashing Donald Trump has been rising in recent polls. While the French right emphasizes the damage to farming, Trump has argued global elites have hurt U.S. coal miners, steel workers and manufacturing.

Surging protectionist sentiment in the U.S. is also complicating the process of reaching a new softwood lumber agreement, Freeland said.

She said the two countries are making an honest attempt at bridging fundamental differences, but Canada is also preparing for the possibility of a new round of court battles as repeatedly experienced over this issue in the past.

"There are some big differences," said Freeland, who met with her U.S. counterpart Michael Froman in Washington on Wednesday.

"We're looking for a good deal — not just any deal. ... If it does go to litigation we're prepared for that, too."