If someone took a sip of Belgian brew Hoegaarden every time Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel used the word “progressive” to describe Canada’s trade deal with the European Union Friday, that glass would have been drained by the end of their press conference.
After a meeting on Parliament HIll, Trudeau paid tribute to the work Michel did to pull the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement out of the fire last October.
There will always be people who have concerns about freer trade, Trudeau said in French, but CETA is a — wait for it — “progressive” trade deal anchored in shared values, he said. Ratifying it in the face of a wave of isolationism and protectionism was “a step forward.”
Describing what nearly sunk CETA last fall as “concerns” may be an understatement. Thousands of people, organized by labour unions and civil society groups amplifying a range of fears about trade liberalization with North America, had hit the streets of Europe.
Socialists and other left-leaning political parties across Europe were under pressure to stop the deal. Only some past-midnight dealmaking saw a postponed signing ceremony rescheduled, after then-trade minister Chrystia Freeland felt forced to walk away from regional demands in Belgium to rewrite a deal the EU had said was done.
‘When we talk about inclusive growth, it can’t just be a phrase that we’re throwing around. It has to be meaningful for people’
– Labour Minister Patty Hajdu
The interpretative declaration that was added to quell European fears had little to do with CETA’s economic benefits or the typical goals of trade deals, like cutting tariffs or opening new markets. It talked about labour rights, food safety and environmental protections — more aligned with the role of governments to supervise business, not enable it.
It was deemed necessary to make sure CETA survived its ratification vote in the European Parliament. And the persuasion isn’t over: three dozen ratification votes remain in regional and federal legislatures across Europe.
CETA was the Trudeau government’s first, but not last, lesson in how to reassure and overcome the opponents of trade policy.
It may serve it well across its entire trade agenda — not just implementing CETA, but negotiating more deals with the countries that remain interested in the Trans-Pacific Partnership or South America’s Mercosur bloc.
“International agreements are becoming far more inclusive of social issues and environmental issues and rights,” Labour Minister Patty Hajdu told CBC News from Berlin Friday. “It’s something Canada is pushing as a trend.”
The minister touted Canada’s ratification…