CETA agreement offers tariff relief to farmers, fishers

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Details remain elusive on massive EU deal as Ottawa keeps most material under wraps

Prime Minister Stephen Harper

The devil is in the details. That about sums up the early reaction to the omnibus Canada European Trade Agreement (CETA) signed in principle last week. The deal has been five years in the making and it could be another two years before final negotiations are completed and it is officially ratified.

That lengthy time frame begs the question why Prime Minister Stephen Harper felt obligated to suddenly fly off to Brussels for the signing ceremony a day after the speech from the throne opened the new session of Parliament. There was immediate speculation the PM was trying desperately to change the channel on the Senate scandal plaguing his government and unfortunately this historic trade deal was quickly knocked off the front pages and newscasts, much to the PM’s utter frustration. CETA could be the crowning achievement of Mr. Harper’s tenure as prime minister but it got the attention of most Canadians for all of one day.

The deal to free the movement of goods, services, investment and labour was described as the biggest deal Canada has ever made. Initial reaction from the provinces and business has been supportive. CETA is projected to boost Canada's gross domestic product by $12 billion annually, the equivalent to creating nearly 80,000 new jobs or adding $1,000 to the average Canadian family's income.

Harper might term it an historical achievement but it remains a confidential document. Ottawa has only released a 44-page overview and other summary documents. The material is largely silent on what Canada had to cede to Europe, making many people nervous about the details. Will Canada be a major beneficiary of this deal with the world’s largest integrated economy, with more than 500 million consumers and a GDP of $17 trillion, or will we be exploited by an energy and resource hungry EU?

The deal has obvious benefits with a trading partner with which we have deep historic ties and mutual interests. It also lessens our dependency on the United States, and based on that country’s recent flirtations with economic disasters, it's a good thing we are broadening our trading partnerships.

Of course the early message is the one supporters want us to hear. Federal cabinet ministers have been given talking points and dispatched across the land to spread the good news. It is supposed to be a boon for trade in fish, such as lobsters, which is good news for P.E.I. Currently, Canadian fish and seafood exports to the EU face tariffs of up to 25 per cent. When the Canada-EU trade agreement is fully implemented, these tariffs will fall to zero or be eliminated.

Many agricultural products, such as potatoes, are also expected to benefit. Again, that is good news for P.E.I. Canadian agricultural exports to the EU face tariffs averaging 13.9 per cent. Under CETA, these tariffs will be eliminated such as 17.6 per cent on processed potato goods, such as french fries and potato flakes. The deal will directly benefit hard-working Islanders through new jobs, new opportunities and higher wages, says P.E.I.’s cabinet minister Gail Shea.

There is a clamour to see more details before a full analysis can be offered. The agreement is huge, complicated and difficult even for experts to provide a rational view on winners and losers. Malpeque MP Wayne Easter has written a letter to the Minister of International Trade, Ed Fast, asking for the full text of the agreement so that all Canadians can determine its merits.

Easter is not the only one urging caution. For many months, a number of social action groups on P.E.I. have issued warnings against CETA because they see threats to health care, control over drinking water, local municipal agreements, drug costs and prohibitions on buying local.

Let's hope more details are soon forthcoming to allow Canadians to see for themselves the negatives and positives and then pass judgment.

Organizations: EU, International Trade

Geographic location: Canada, Ottawa, Brussels Europe United States

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