July 5, 2016 / 3:57 PM / in a year

Canada welcomes EU free trade deal move, sees 2017 breakthrough

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Large parts of a free trade deal between Canada and the European Union should come into force next year, Canada’s trade minister said on Tuesday, even though the EU’s executive commission opted against fast-track approval.

Canada's International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada, December 7 , 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie/File Photo

“This is a really important and great next step,” Chrystia Freeland said in a interview.

The commission, facing increased popular suspicion about big trade deals, said on Tuesday it would give member states’ national parliaments the right to approve or reject the free trade agreement.

But Freeland said she expected the European Parliament - a separate body which groups legislators from all 28 EU nations - to ratify the deal early next year.

Under EU rules this means that around 90 percent of the agreement, which she described as a “push back against angry populism”, would come into force provisionally.

Freeland and Foreign Minister Stephane Dion both plan to travel to Europe this month to push the merits of the deal, which proponents say could increase bilateral trade by a fifth.

But free trade is becoming a harder sell for governments amid a shift towards protectionism, which helped fuel Britain’s vote last month to leave the EU as well as the rise of U.S. Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

“It’s important for Europe and for the world that we show it’s possible to do great, progressive trade agreements,” said Freeland, citing worker and environmental protections in CETA, or the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.

“This is Canada and Europe’s push back against the angry populism we’re seeing in so many parts of the world.”

If Britain does leave the EU it will need to renegotiate dozens of trade deals it has access to as part of the 28-nation bloc. The talks would also include Canada, assuming the EU parliament ratifies CETA next year.

Freeland though was cautious when pressed about how Canada would handle trade relations with a non-EU Britain, saying there were too many uncertainties at present.

“Britain has a lot of decisions it has to make ... it’s important to give Britain and the EU some breathing room and time to sort out their relationship,” she said.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama

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