The EU sees trade as a mechanism through which its political goals can be met. That’s why it still insists that its trading partners agree to everything from welfare policies to open borders — it even demands this of the U.K. in any new trade deal that Britain strikes after it leaves the EU.
The European Union doesn’t just want Canadian products and services in negotiating a Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) with us. It also wants our sovereignty and our soul. Canada should walk away from CETA, a deal scheduled to be signed at the Canada-EU summit in Brussels on Oct. 27. Otherwise, we may lose not just our Canadian character in pursuing this deal; we may also lose much of our economy.
The EU’s approach to trade has always been about more than lowering tariffs and ending quotas — it doesn’t simply want an FTA (free-trade agreement), it wants a “comprehensive” trade agreement. The EU sees trade as a mechanism through which its political goals can be met. That’s why it still insists that its trading partners agree to everything from welfare policies to open borders — it even demands this of the U.K. in any new trade deal that Britain strikes after it leaves the EU.
For a while, it seemed that CETA would break the EU’s mould in its deal with Canada, that the EU would not in the end insist on making Canada accept the type of political strings that it forced on Switzerland and other European trading partners. But now, after a marathon, seven-year-long-and-running negotiation that seemingly resolved money matters — dairy quotas, intellectual property rights, investor protections — the EU’s negotiating focus has turned to its social agenda.
Canada doesn’t have strong enough labour laws to ensure decent working conditions, or strong enough regulations to protect the environment, or enough of a commitment to sustainable development, or sufficient guarantees that the public sector will be protected from privatizations, says the EU chorus of CETA power brokers, among them major unions, NGOs and political parties.
Canada’s international trade minister, Chrystia Freeland, had an answer to such critics earlier this week in a closed-door presentation to Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) prior to a convention vote on whether to endorse CETA: Canada would capitulate. Her promise to change our labour and environmental standards to conform to European standards did the trick. The centre-left SPD, despite overwhelming opposition from its rank-and-file members, voted to allow CETA to proceed — but only provisionally, on the understanding that Canada must demonstrate that it has buckled under to the satisfaction of labour and environmental lobbies and the EU’s 28 member states before CETA comes fully into force.
The EU sees a trade deal as a way to advance its political goals
Even if Canada runs their gauntlet, becomes more like them and less like us, and accepts all the sanctions that would be demanded of us, our forced transformation would not be over. Anti-trade sentiment is high in Europe as it is in the U.S. — hundreds of thousands of Europeans took to the streets last weekend in opposition to CETA. In Austria, 88 per cent of the public oppose CETA, including the country’s chancellor, whose party heads the coalition government. With the continuing rise of nationalism, more concessions are likely to be demanded of us over the next five years — the time estimated to be required for CETA’s ratification by all the member states.
During this period, when we’re jumping through hoops to change our business practices to satisfy the EU — for example by adopting the stringent climate change reforms the European left demands — we would be undermining our ability to compete in our bread-and-butter NAFTA market. Americans won’t be compromising their nation’s economy through carbon taxes or a carbon market — even if Donald Trump, an unabashed climate-change skeptic, doesn’t become president, the climate-change-skeptic Republican-controlled House of Representatives will ensure that no debilitating carbon legislation passes. The notion of undermining our own ability to trade with the U.S. in favour of trade with the EU is all the more iffy since no one knows if the EU will even exist 10 years from now.
CETA promises to create divisions among Canadians who object to becoming Europeanized and among those in Canadian industry who rely primarily on the U.S. versus the EU economy. Should the EU make ever more unpalatable demands for our continued membership in CETA, we would be hopelessly torn between our desire to live as Canadians and our need for trade with the EU. As the British found out, the decision to exit an entrenched trading relationship with the EU can be wrenching.
The Brits would have been better off had they never agreed to abide by the EU’s political dictates, and so never had to endure the pain of a Brexit in order to live freely as Brits. Canada can skip the need to exit a politically infused EU trade deal by not joining it in the first place.