EU bids to seal Canada trade pact as U.S. deal prospects fade

Fri Sep 23, 2016 10:59am EDT
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By Philip Blenkinsop and Tatiana Jancarikova

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - EU ministers took steps on Friday to approve a contentious free trade deal with Canada, while France and Austria demanded that talks towards a similar agreement with the United States should stop.

Both deals have triggered demonstrations by unions and protest groups who say they will spark a 'race to the bottom' in labor, environmental and public health standards and allow big business to challenge governments across Europe.

After a first session devoted to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) struck with Canada two years ago but still awaiting approval, ministers agreed the two sides would produce a binding declaration that spelt out the limits of the pact to dispel public concerns.

The ministers are expected to convene an extraordinary meeting on Oct. 18, allowing the deal to be signed during the visit of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Brussels on Oct. 27. It could provisionally enter force early next year.

"There was a great willingness to sign the agreement in October," Sigmar Gabriel, Germany's economy minister and vice-chancellor, told reporters.

Gabriel on Monday overcame left-wing resistance to the deal within his Social Democrats, the junior coalition partners in government.

However, lingering doubts remain elsewhere, notably in Austria, where Chancellor Christian Kern's Social Democrats have grave concern, and Belgium, where not all regions back the deal.

Reinhold Mitterlehner, Austria's Christian Democrat vice chancellor, said a declaration making clear that standards were not under threat and that a special court would not allow big business to dictate public policy would help.   Continued...

Thousands of people demonstrate against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) in the centre of Brussels, Belgium September 20, 2016. Reuters/Eric Vidal