EU, Canada secure clearance to kickstart free trade deal

Wed Feb 15, 2017 1:14pm EST
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By Philip Blenkinsop

STRASBOURG (Reuters) - The European Union and Canada secured clearance on Wednesday for their contentious free trade deal and the removal of import duties that supporters say will boost growth and jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.

The two parties can claim success for their open markets policy following months of protest and uncertainty as well as the actions of U.S. President Donald Trump, who withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and wants to rework the North American Free Trade Agreement.

European Parliament lawmakers backed the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) by 408-254, meaning large parts of the deal, notably tariff reduction, will finally enter into force some eight years after negotiations began.

European trade unions and protest groups complain the pact will lead to a race to the bottom in labor and environmental standards and allow multinational corporations to dictate public policy.

The chief point of contention is the deal's system to protect foreign investors, which critics say can lead to cases such as Philip Morris International's challenge, albeit unsuccessful, of plain tobacco packaging in Australia.

Supporters say the right to regulate is enshrined in the treaty and CETA has replaced closed arbitration panels with transparent and independent courts to settle disputes.

In Ottawa, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters that "when you put forward a progressive trade deal that takes in account the responsibility of governments to create ... inclusive growth, we can move forward on globalization".

Trudeau, who met Trump on Monday, is due to address the European Parliament on Thursday.   Continued...

Members of the European Parliament take part in a voting session on the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada, in Strasbourg, France, February 15, 2017.  REUTERS/Vincent Kessler