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OPINION: What the CETA trade deal means for Canadians

Concordia professor Axel Huelsemeyer participated on EU’s negotiating team
November 2, 2016
By Axel Huelsemeyer


Axel Huelsemeyer is an associate professor of political science in Concordia's Faculty of Arts and Science.

Prime Minister Trudeau has just signed CETA, Canada’s biggest bilateral initiative since 1994, when NAFTA was signed. The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between the European Union and Canada was ratified on October 30 at the EU Headquarters in Brussels.

I myself was part of the EU’s negotiating team for the last four months, when the contentious topics of agriculture and pharmaceuticals were still on the table. CETA was seven years in the making. Sparked by a joint study released in October 2008 titled “Assessing the Costs and Benefits of a Closer EU Canada Economic Partnership negotiations started the following year.

More jobs, cheaper cheese

CETA means that 98 per cent of bilateral tariffs will fall. It means better access for Canada to the EU's 500-million consumers. This is expected to create thousands of jobs here.

In addition, the EU’s labour-mobility will now partially extend to Canada. All degrees are recognized across the European Union: with a law degree from Hungary, you can work in Spain if you speak the language. Canadians with professional degrees, like architecture, will now gain access to this system, resulting in more job opportunities.

Another aspect is the cost of cheese. The dairy and poultry industry, which is almost all in southern Quebec and southern Ontario, is highly protected in Canada. This results in cheese prices about three times higher than in Europe.

The EU pushed for a Canadian drop in prices because its 28 member states have many cheese producers. This is good news for Canadian consumers, but bad news for dairy farmers. The expectation is that this will force up to 50 per cent of dairy farmers out of business. It depends on which side you sit.

Challenges for Canada

But there is other challenging news for Canada. Patents for pharmaceuticals are longer across the EU than they are in Canada. Only in Quebec are they already similarly long. These longer patents will apply in Canada. Generic drugs are not allowed as quickly, which means that Canadians are expected to pay more for prescriptions than they are used to now.

Most of the public criticism on both side of the Atlantic is about the investment protection for foreign investors in Section 4 of the more than 1,500-page CETA text. This protection means that a foreign company could sue a province if it can prove that it was discriminated against compared to a Canadian company.

But this goes both ways. For example Bombardier, who already manufactures trains in Europe, could benefit from CETA. Critics say this gives too much power to big business. NAFTA already had the same provision, so this is nothing new.

Learn more about Concordia's Department of Political Science.


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