OTTAWA – The federal government says the legal review of Canada’s free trade deal with the European Union has been completed – and the door is open for the pact to come into force next year.
An agreement in principle was reached on the comprehensive deal, known as CETA, in October 2013. Negotiations between Canada and the 28-member EU began in 2009.
The agreement was negotiated under the former Conservative government, but International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland said Monday that the Liberals supported CETA while in opposition.
“This is really a gold-plated trade deal,” said Freeland, who added that CETA’s entry into force will give Canada access to a market of 500 million people.
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“It is going to bring tremendous benefit to Canadians and to Europeans. We are going to feel it all in a real increase in prosperity and I’m confident this is going to become the landmark trade agreement.”
In making the announcement, Freeland pointed to modifications including changes that strengthen the right of governments to regulate, including in areas such as labour and the environment.
“In the 21st century, it is right and appropriate to make clear in trade agreements the power, and indeed the democratic responsibility, of governments to regulate,” she said.
Modifications, she added, have also been made to allow for a permanent dispute-settlement tribunal and an appeal system.
“The core notion of having a dispute-resolution process is not to supersede that right to regulate – it is to ensure that governments don’t discriminate against foreign investors,” Freeland said. “That is the core idea behind trade deals.”
Earlier this month, Canada’s chief negotiator Steve Verhuel told a parliamentary committee that Ottawa was working with the EU to revise controversial investor protection provisions in CETA.
Verhuel said Ottawa was exploring whether improvements could make the dispute-resolution mechanism more favourable to Canada.
The Europeans first raised the matter after political opposition surfaced in Europe in 2014 over the chapter that deals with settling disputes between companies and governments, known as ISDS.
Some European politicians and anti-trade activists have expressed concerns that the investor-state dispute settlement chapter would give big companies the power to sue governments for creating regulations that affect their profits.
They have warned it could undermine the ability of countries to regulate environmental and health policies, among other things.
European officials, including the EU ambassador to Canada, have said they didn’t see ISDS as an impediment to the pact’s implementation.
Freeland, who expects to sign the deal later this year, said she didn’t hear any opposition to CETA during consultations she held on it across the country.
She said there’s still time before next year’s ratification to look closely at the agreement to determine potential side effects for some sectors and how Ottawa can react to them.
© 2016 The Canadian Press