In the aftermath of last week’s surprising Brexit vote, the European Union is even more determined to sign a free trade agreement with Canada, International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland says, and there’s not the slightest “whisper” of discontent over the massive deal.
In an interview with CBC’s Power & Politics, Freeland said she expects the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the EU to be signed before the U.K. has time to trigger Article 50, which would kick-start the country’s withdrawal from the 28-nation bloc.
“I spent the weekend and Friday, a lot of time on the phone. CETA is more than alive, CETA is absolutely moving forward,” she said. “My European counterparts obviously, were very surprised, very concerned about the British vote. But if anything it has strengthened their resolve about going forward with CETA.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has spoken with European Council President Donald Tusk and German Chancellor Angela Merkel who, like others in the EU, want the trade deal to go through, Freeland said.
Those conversations saw the leaders “reaffirm their commitment toward the ratification of the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement,” according to statements posted on the PMO website.
“I think that what we are going to see in Europe now is a real commitment to CETA, which was there already, but [it’s] now politically even stronger because this is really the next big thing that the EU has on its plate,” said Freeland. “And it is really important for Europe now, politically, to show that they can move forward with a big agreement.”
Freeland said “the ratification will not be delayed” and given what she is hearing from both British Prime Minister David Cameron and his potential successor, Boris Johnson, the deal will be signed soon.
“It seems quite possible to me that CETA will be … certainly signed, and very likely ratified, even before Article 50 is invoked. And very, very likely to go into force while Britain is still part of Europe,” said Freeland.
Canada: An example to the world?
Article 50 is a provision of the Lisbon Treaty that outlines what a member state has to do to withdraw from the European Union. The process begins with a member state telling the European Council it wishes to leave the club, kicking off a two-year negotiation period for withdrawal, although negotiations can be extended beyond those two years.
Freeland doesn’t expect those negotiations to impact CETA, which she described as a “gold standard agreement” that will be a model trade deal for the rest of the world.
“It has some important elements that we concluded in February, which make it a progressive trade agreement [and] answers the questions that some critics of trade have,” she said.
Speaking about the anti-immigrant sentiment that has played a part in both the Brexit referendum and the U.S. election, especially around Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, Freeland said Canada may be able to help.
“Canada is extremely well-positioned to lead the global pushback against that,” she said. “[If] you invest in your middle class, if you maintain an equal society, a society where you don’t have these vast chasms, which I think we do really remarkably well in Canada, then I think we can really pushback against it.”