Time for more trade across the Atlantic

Source: A.C. (Cecilia) Malmström i, published on Friday, July 8 2016.

This week, we sent the EU's trade agreement with Canada to the Council for signature. CETA, as it is called, is the most progressive and ambitious trade deal that the EU has ever negotiated. We aim to have it signed at the next EU-Canada summit in October of this year.

From day one, CETA would scrap almost all tariffs between us, saving companies hundreds of millions of euros in payments every year. It will help cut costs for EU firms - especially the smaller ones - who cannot afford to try out new markets if faced by customs duties and overlapping bureaucracy. Once CETA is in place, EU firms that want to export items like electrical goods or toys will only need to get their products tested once rather than having to duplicate tests. This will not make a good less safe, but it will make them cheaper and could give consumers more choice.

The CETA deal will also boost trade in services, providing better access for European suppliers in sectors such as maritime services, telecoms, accountancy, engineering and environmental services. It will make it easier for service suppliers to travel between the EU and Canada to connect with their customers. And it will pave the way for professional qualifications for jobs such as architects, accountants and engineers to be recognised without unnecessary hurdles.

Furthermore, the agreement with Canada is the beginning of a new era for how we protect investments. Together with our Canadian partners, we will make a clear break from the old ISDS system through a new model that enshrines the rights of governments to regulate, and that is more transparent, and independent and impartial. The EU and Canada agree the ultimate goal is a proper global investment court, as works well in other areas.

CETA also breaks new ground when it comes to helping exporters compete for government contracts. EU suppliers will be able to bid for government contracts in all areas, from IT systems to roads to trains, at all levels of government - federal, provincial, and local. This is an unprecedented level of access in Canada’s international trade agreements.

In short, CETA will help to generate much-needed growth and jobs while fully upholding Europe's high standards in areas like food safety, environmental protection and people's rights at work. This is what our trade policy is all about.

A word on the ratification process: from a strictly legal standpoint, the Commission considers this agreement to fall under exclusive EU competence. This means it would normally be up to the Member State governments and the European Parliament to approve or reject the agreement. However, the political situation in the Council is clear, and we understand the need for proposing it as a so-called 'mixed' agreement, in order to allow for a speedy signature. Meanwhile, the open issue of competence for such trade agreements will be for the European Court of Justice to clarify in the near future. Watch my press conference here.

After receiving the green light from the Council and the consent of the European Parliament it will be possible to provisionally apply the Canada agreement. Such provisional application is in itself nothing new. Recent examples are our agreements with South Korea, Colombia/Peru and Central America - deals that were all provisionally applied. In the case of South Korea, EU exports to that country grew by 35 percent in the first three years of the trade deal being in force, a time when it was provisionally applied. Now, after five years, exports are up even more. Car exports, for instance, have tripled.

Without a doubt, these are tough times for international cooperation. The voices calling for higher walls to be erected are often louder than those making the case for tearing them down. That makes it even more important that our trade agreement with Canada is signed, provisionally applied and concluded quickly, so that the people of Europe can reap its benefits.