Stephen Harper confident as final EU trade deal released
'Now we will be playing in the big leagues,' PM says
"It will not only change the game for Canadian businesses," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said, "it will create an entirely new game."
Harper hosted Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, and Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, for wide-ranging talks on Parliament Hill earlier Friday and at joint news conference Friday evening in Toronto.
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He thanked both men for their "unshakable friendship," and said the "agreement opens the way to vastly increased trade, greater prosperity and deeper friendships" between Canada and EU members.
"The goal has been, of course, to broaden our trade beyond the U.S. and the most critical goal we have in four decades in that regard has been to secure greater trade with Europe."
Von Rompuy said that the new trade deal and a strategic partnership agreement that accompanies it add "new levels of depth of understanding" to the Canada-EU relationship, and are the "embodiment of a much larger bond."
Barroso pointed out that Canada is the first G7 country to sign a trade deal with the EU. Four members of the G7 are member states of the EU, but the United States and Japan do not have their own deals yet.
Barroso called the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) "the most advanced agreement in the world today when it comes to market integration."
"It has not always been easy. Let me tell you that Canadian negotiators are extremely able and strong and determined," he said.
"That's the price we have to pay for an unprecedented agreement between two highly developed economies. I think we can say that it was worth waiting for."
Ratification not guaranteed
The final text of the agreement, which runs over 1,600 pages, was posted on the Canadian government's website on Friday morning.
Harper called it "deeper in substance and broader in scope" than any other agreement in Canadian history.
Talks that began more than five years ago concluded in August, but the final agreement was not made public because officials said it needed to be translated and checked by lawyers.
Barroso's presidency ends within days, and Harper told him Friday night that "this deal is your crowning achievement."
This trade agreement is the EU's second under his leadership. (The first, with South Korea in 2011, is still being ratified in parliaments across Europe.)
A "joint declaration which highlights the strength of the relationship between Canada and the European Union" was signed by the three leaders on Friday.
A release from the EU confirmed that the trade deal will now be sent to the European Council for authorization for signature.
The next step, the release says, will be the consent vote in the European Parliament, and "if necessary the approval of the parliaments of the member states."
The European Commission under Barroso's leadership has said that such member state votes were not necessary. But the incoming president, Jean-Claude Juncker, has a different view.
Barroso, Harper confident
Opponents say there is significant opposition in Germany as well as France, Italy, Austria, Belgium and Luxembourg.
Barroso commented on reports that Germany would not sign by saying that "Germany would benefit the most" from the deal.
"It's quite obvious," he said, while adding that he respects that not everyone likes it.
"We are used to having different opinions," he said, adding that he had "no doubt" that it would be endorsed by all member states.
Harper said he expected that some people would want some "small things" changed or would "want more money," but that the agreement has the support of all the member countries of Europe and all the provinces in Canada.
A tight vote is expected at the European Parliament.
Despite potential backlash at home, Harper urged business leaders gathered in Toronto to use the agreement to their full benefit.
"It isn't just a matter of passing it and implementing it, it's also about getting results."
NDP to decide next week
In Canada, the agreement will be voted on in the House of Commons and Quebec's National Assembly, with other provincial cabinets also signing off.
It's expected to pass easily in the House of Commons, thanks to the Conservative majority Harper enjoys.
Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair said Friday his party would be taking the weekend to read the text and would decide after the caucus meeting next Wednesday whether to vote in favour.
Harper alluded to possible domestic opposition Friday night, saying "ìt's important that we not give up the fight."
"In something as complicated as this, there is always possible roadbumps, possible misinformation and federal and provincial wrangling."
New Democrats have sometimes opposed trade deals, but were open to supporting this one providing certain concerns were addressed, such as:
- Protection for Canadians in municipal procurement provisions.
- Measures to control higher drug costs following changes in patent protection.
- A fair investor-state dispute settlement mechanism.
- Compensation for dairy producers adversely affected by an influx of European cheese and new labelling rules
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Mulcair said he shared concerns expressed in Germany about the investor-state provisions. He also thought Canada would be bound for too long by the terms of the deal.
"We're very reticent," Mulcair said.
Liberal trade critic Chrystia Freeland told CBC News her party wanted more time to fully digest the deal before confirming its support.
"We keep on having photo ops with this deal, we keep on having moments where we say 'mission accomplished,'" she said, "but this is not a done deal. That's what the Germans are telling us."
Freeland said Canada lost 30 per cent of its market share in South Korea when other major trading partners were faster to finalize their free trade deals.
After a working lunch in Ottawa, the leaders moved on to an event in Toronto to promote the trade deal with business leaders from Canadian and European companies.