By Alexander Dombrowski
The European Union’s trade agreement with Canada, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), received a major vote of confidence on September 19 from Sigmar Gabriel, the economic minister and vice chancellor of Germany, and his Social Democratic Party, who praised the deal, according to the Wall Street Journal. Gabriel claimed CETA would save EU exporters $560 million a year once several contentious clauses are ratified.
Gaining the center-left Social Democratic Party’s votes was a major win for CETA, since the leftist protests against the agreement were the strongest in Germany. CBC News inferred that the support of the two largest parties in the country showed that CETA is popular enough to pass, since Chancellor Angela Merkel has been a staunch supporter of the EU’s free trade deals. They join the 12 foreign ministers that have backed both free trade deals with the United States and Canada, according to Reuters.
CETA will revoke 900 tariffs on agricultural and industrial goods, among others, and will establish higher standards for free trade agreements between developed nations. Often viewed as the “little brother” to the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the deal’s text has been finalized and all that remains is to clear up vague language surrounding workplace protections and environmental safety until the bill can be ratified by every member of the EU.
TTIP, the EU’s trade deal with the U.S., aims to revoke tariffs and promote exports from both continents. Negotiations for the landmark agreement began in 2013, with the New York Times reporting the motivation was to access a market of more than 800 million people. Although the Obama administration has been trying to push the agreement through before the president’s term expires, the negotiations have ground to a halt, prompting Gabriel to pronounce that they had “de facto failed.”
Critics of the trans-Atlantic trade deals have turned out in force across Germany and Austria in protest. According to the New York Times, there were an estimated 320,000 people who voiced their disagreement with the deals, with a poll by the European Centre for International Political Economy showing public approval of the TTIP in Germany at 49 percent, a stark contrast from the 61 percent support average across the EU. The demonstrators cited concerns over genetically modified food and the threat of dominance from multinational corporations through grievances filed in court restricting their country’s ability to implement environmental regulations and human rights protections.
Although the two plans are structurally similar, protests have focused on the TTIP, helping to bring to a halt further negotiations. Whether this is “anti-American” sentiment or a massive rebuke of globalization, public opinion is worse for the TTIP than for CETA. Additionally, the Canadians have ceded much more ground in negotiations than the U.S., which is one of the main reasons the TTIP is so controversial. Canada has agreed to make the independent courts much more transparent than their American counterparts, leading to smoother negotiations.
With the support of the center-left Social Democratic Party, CETA is on track to be ratified and provisionally implemented by late October. The TTIP, on the other hand, seems unlikely to be passed before President Barack Obama leaves office, barring an unlikely concession by the United States.