CETA: EU and Canada share many of the same hopes
Jude Kirton-Darling says she was continually reminded of shared values during Parliament's international trade committee delegation trip to Canada.
Trade agreements have risen in the public consciousness as the EU has embarked on a series of 'new generation' agreements with our trading partners.
The first of these new agreements to be concluded was with Canada in summer 2014 - shortly after the last European elections.
It is yet to come before MEPs for ratification, as the controversy around investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) engulfed not only the EU-US transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) negotiations but also the EU-Canadian CETA deal.
- Chrystia Freeland: CETA 'a truly gold standard agreement'
- Artis Pabriks: CETA agreement goes 'beyond trade'
- Marietje Schaake: CETA set to strengthen EU-Canada partnership
As the UK Labour' party delegation's spokesperson on relations with the Americas, I have been following and scrutinising both negotiations closely.
I joined my fellow MEPs on the European Parliament's international trade committee delegation visit to Ottawa and Montreal from 20-23 March. Ahead of the delegation's visit, anticipation grew as EU and Canadian negotiations concluded an unconventional 'scrubbing' of the text in February. Normally a legal formality, the scrubbing brought a series of changes to the proposed ISDS in CETA.
Despite being negotiated by the previous Conservative administration, the new Liberal government and trade minister Chrystia Freeland are working hard to seal the deal. Our meeting with her and the chief negotiator was a charm offensive.
There is broad cross-party support for CETA among Canadian politicians, although the country's socialist New Democratic Party are more critical with similar concerns to British Labour MEPs about public services and ISDS or the new investor court system (ICS).
As expected, our meetings with civil society representatives, labour union leaders, and business representatives raised many of the same hopes and concerns we hear from their European counterparts; concerns around issues of rising inequality, public services, corporate power over regulation and labour rights.
We also heard about hopes for increased economic integration, regulatory convergence, export-led growth and new market opportunities.
Little did we know that our mission would be overshadowed by events back in Brussels. We were shown touching solidarity by all Canadians we met and were constantly reminded of the shared values we hold dear - open societies, open markets and social safety nets. What was meant to be a classic trade delegation became quite a different experience.
Soon, we will begin the process of formally scrutinising the CETA text ahead of our vote to accept or reject it, and it's likely that the arguments for and against made in Ottawa and Montreal will be heard louder inside the European Parliament.
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