Harper, EU leaders celebrate trade deal they haven't sealed

Prime Minister Stephen Harper may be all smiles with EU leaders at their summit in Ottawa on Friday, as they celebrate the end of their trade deal negotiations. But Canadians on both sides of the trade debate are gearing up for the next stage: a rough road to ratification in Europe.

Negotiators finish 5 years of CETA talks, but uncertain ratification, political sales job lie ahead

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, left, and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, right, will be Prime Minister Stephen Harper's guests on Parliament Hill Friday as they celebrate the end of negotiations for the Canada-EU trade deal. ( Yves Logghe/Associated Press)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper may be all smiles during his summit with European Union leaders in Ottawa Friday, as they celebrate the end of five years of tough trade negotiations on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.

But Canadians — those who like CETA, and those who don't — are already shifting gears for the rough road to ratification that looms in Europe.

Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council (representing the heads of state or government for Europe's member countries), and Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission (the EU's executive branch), are in Ottawa to discuss shared concerns, including the crisis in Syria and Iraq.

But it's the trade deal, touted as a boost to ailing economies, that's meant to provide the good news.

If the smiles are forced, it may be because the pressure's on. 

Barroso's Canadian hosts are eager to put pen to paper, pleased with getting Europe to bend on 98 per cent of the tariff lines on Canadian goods.

Within two years, Canadians want to be selling Europe's 500 million consumers more seafood, beef and pork. And they didn't have to dismantle the milk marketing boards to get there.

But this is Barroso's farewell tour. His presidency ends within days. And his successor, Jean-Claude Juncker, sees CETA somewhat differently.

Harper and Barroso announced the end of negotiations in August. The final text of the deal was quietly posted on the Canadian government's website Friday morning.

The European Council and the EU parliament must approve the deal.

Barroso doesn't believe the EU's 28 member states need to vote to ratify it in their own parliaments, but Juncker has indicated it could be put to a vote in each country.

In that case, a defeat anywhere could scuttle it.

Juncker also is open to sacrificing CETA's controversial investor-state dispute settlement provisions, which are meant to protect companies from arbitrary government decisions by giving them a way to challenge laws or regulations and sue for damages.

Germany offside?

On Thursday, Germany's deputy chancellor Sigmar Gabriel told the German parliament that "it's completely clear that we reject these investment protection agreements."

"I am certain that the debate is not over by a long shot," Angela Merkel's coalition partner said.

Powerful German players, including the labour movement that supports Gabriel's Social Democratic Party, want these "private courts" out of the deal in return for their support.

International Trade Minister Ed Fast said Thursday he'd had no indication from the German government it wouldn't support CETA.

I think we have a fair expectation that we can derail the ratification process in the EU parliament- Brent Patterson, Council of Canadians

"We've made it very clear that this is an agreement that was negotiated within existing mandates given to negotiators from both sides," he said. "We strongly support investor state dispute settlement rules."

Kurt Hübner, from the University of British Columbia's School of European Studies, thinks the Canadian deal was underestimated in Europe until people realized it paved the way for an even bigger deal with the U.S.

"CETA is the victim," Hübner said.

"It shouldn't be seen as a threat to democracy," he said, but an overly centralized process has created an "underinformed" political climate.

While some applaud the way provinces and stakeholders were consulted during negotiations, civil society groups on both sides of the Atlantic have been troubled.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives studied a leaked version of the agreement and concluded the deal is "unbalanced, favouring large multinational corporations at the expense of consumers, the environment and the greater public interest."

A protest organized by five groups, including the Council of Canadians and Campact Germany, will greet the EU leaders on Parliament Hill Friday.

But with the opposition NDP and Liberals expressing conditional support for the deal, ratification appears certain in Canada. Provincial premiers gave their agreement in principle earlier in the talks and all provincial cabinets as well as Quebec's National Assembly, which will hold its own vote, are expected to sign off.

That's why opponents of the deal went abroad.

Odds of defeat 'pretty good'

The Council of Canadians started campaigning in Europe in 2010. It has crunched the numbers in Brussels and thinks the vote could come down to as few as 12 of the 751 parliamentarians.

"I think we have a fair expectation that we can derail the ratification process in the EU parliament," says Brent Patterson, political director for the group.

This is the start of something, not the end of it.- John Manley, Canadian Council for Chief Executives

"If we've got a year or two, as U.S. negotiations heat up and public awareness continues to build, our odds are looking pretty good," he says.

The worst-case scenario, thinks Carleton University's Crina Viju, is the deal won't be approved by ministers at the European Council because of concerns like Germany's.

Canada would have to re-open talks or walk away. 

"Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper must have recognized that they talked too much, too early that this deal was done. It wasn't done at all, obviously," Viju says.

Business coalition launching

After Friday's summit, the leaders head to Toronto for an event with several hundred Canadian and European business representatives.

"This is the start of something, not the end of it," says former Liberal cabinet minister John Manley, who now heads the Canadian Council for Chief Executives.

He wants to see Canadian companies get a head start on the U.S. for access to the European market, so on Friday, he's helping launch the Coalition for Canada-Europe Trade. Manley says Canada has work to do.

"If we want to bring this thing home we have to be all over it," he says.

Still, he's optimistic the Europeans will close this deal to set a precedent.

"If they think we're hard bargainers, they should see the Americans."


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