CETA APPROVED A Euro-Canadian Victory

Ahead of a meeting in Berlin, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Chancellor Angela Merkel have scored a major victory with the passage of the E.U.-Canada trade agreement by the European Parliament.
Justin Trudeau been given a victory ahead of his visit to Europe. Picture

When Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with Chancellor Angela Merkel this week in Berlin, the two Western leaders most closely associated with liberal values on immigration and trade will be able to celebrate a major political victory.

The European Parliament on Wednesday approved the Canada-E.U. trade deal, known as CETA, by a decisive margin of 408 to 254 with 33 abstentions.

The passage of CETA in Europe is a major rebuke to the populist, anti-trade sentiment that has rapidly gained political momentum in the wake of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential election.

“We have demonstrated to all of our partners that we Europeans stand together for free and open trade relations,” German Economics Minister Brigitte Zypries said after the vote.

Though CETA has been approved by the E.U. parliament, the story is far from over. Brussels can only implement certain parts of the agreement on a provisional basis.

CETA has a tortured history in Europe, where it continues to faces stiff opposition among populists on both the right and left. Critics argue that the trade deal will undermine the national sovereignty of democratically-elected governments and erode health, labor and environmental standards.

Back in October, the trade deal nearly collapsed altogether over the opposition of the regional parliament in Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium. Canada’s trade minister at the time, Chrystia Freeland, walked out of the talks and Mr. Trudeau canceled a planned trip to Europe.

This time around, Mr. Trudeau can keep his travel schedule. Conservatives, liberals and some social democrats were able to forge a coalition in the European Parliament to pass the controversial trade deal over the opposition of far-left and far-right factions, as well as some skeptical social democrats.

Boosted by the passage of CETA, Mr. Trudeau can expect a warm reception in the European Parliament, where he will become the first Canadian prime minister to address the legislative body in Strasbourg on Thursday.

He will then meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, where the two are expected to discuss Mr. Trudeau’s recent meeting with U.S. President Trump in Washington among other topics.

"It is of interest, of course, to meet with the prime minister a few days after he has been in Washington and met with the American president," Werner Wnendt, the German ambassador to Canada, said according to the Canadian public broadcaster CBC.

Mr. Trudeau has increasingly become Germany’s preferred partner in North America as relations have soured with the Trump administration, which has slammed Ms. Merkel’s refugee policy, accused Germany of being a currency manipulator and threatened to impose tariffs on German carmakers.

Ms. Merkel and Mr. Trudeau, on the other hand, are kindred political spirits in key respects. They have both spoken out strongly in favor of accepting refugees and promoting free trade. The chancellor has been a strong proponent of CETA despite popular opposition to the trade deal in Germany.

Though CETA has been approved by the E.U. parliament, the story is far from over. Brussels can only implement certain parts of the agreement on a provisional basis. The most controversial aspects – such as courts that would settle disputes between investors and national governments – still have to be approved by the E.U. member state parliaments, a process that could take years.


Gerd Braune is Handelsblatt's correspondent in Canada. Spencer Kimball is an editor for Handelsblatt Global Edition, based in the United States. To contact the authors: [email protected]