STRASBOURG (Reuters) - European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker expressed optimism on Wednesday that EU governments would agree a contentious free trade deal this month ahead of a meeting with a skeptical Austrian chancellor.
Juncker said the EU needed to ensure that a deal agreed with Canada two years ago entered into force in a matter of months and that he would be in discussions on the issue with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday and Thursday.
“And I do think that we will reach a final agreement, which will take on board – in a specific declaration – the concerns of all the member states,” he said in a speech to the European Parliament, referring to the EU’s 28 member nations.
The deal, named the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), needs approval from all EU governments, as well as the European Parliament, before it can come into force provisionally next year. It would still need later ratification by national parliaments to be applied in full.
Some EU countries, notably Austria, have baulked at accepting the deal after mass demonstrations by labor unions and protest groups who say it will spark a ‘race to the bottom’ in labor, environmental and public health standards and allow big business to challenge governments across Europe.
Juncker told the European Parliament he was not a “blind free trader”, but believed trade was essential for job creation, pointing to the EU-South Korea free trade deal which he said had yielded 210,000 jobs in Europe since it entered force in 2011.
Juncker later hosted Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern. The Social Democrat leader, who has criticized the pact in the past, said on Monday that negotiations were on the right track.
The European Commission, which negotiates trade deals for the EU, and Canada have agreed to produce a binding declaration that spells out the limits of the pact to dispel public concerns.
The Commission said it was still working on the document.
The ministers are expected to convene an extraordinary meeting on Oct. 18, allowing the deal to be signed during Trudeau’s visit to Brussels on Oct. 27. The European Parliament would probably vote on CETA in December or January.
Reporting By Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Richard Balmforth