VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria’s government on Monday seemed to have found common ground on a free trade agreement between the European Union and Canada with Chancellor Christian Kern, who has criticised the pact in the past, saying negotiations were on the right track.
Social Democrat Kern’s opposition to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada - which is seen as a test for an EU-U.S. trade deal - had been countered by fervent praise for the deal from his conservative vice Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner.
The Austrian government’s split mirrors Europe-wide debates about transatlantic free trade deals in which anti-globalisation groups see standards at risk while supporters hope for more jobs and export revenues.
Canada’s trade minister and EU ministers agreed on a legally binding additional declaration in late September to clarify the points which sparked public concerns.
Kern said the government’s “legal demands” would be met if a system which allows companies to sue governments in investment courts not provisionally enter into force but be subject to approval by national parliaments, and if national governments were allowed to decide which services to define as “public”.
Kern earlier had voiced concern that the deals could allow companies to challenge public policies if they felt regulations put them at a disadvantage, and that they might harm social and environmental standards in Europe.
“There is thus no further obstacle to a joint Austrian government line ,” Economy Minister Mitterlehner said. “This is a reasonable way for the export nation Austria.”
EU 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.
Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Editing by Richard Balmforth