THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Dutch lawmakers are holding a knife-edge vote Feb. 18 on a free trade deal between the European Union and Canada, with Prime Minister Mark Rutte struggling to command a majority.
Defeat would be a serious blow for the liberal leader Rutte, who is a strong supporter of the deal and of free trade.
Rejection by the Dutch parliament would throw into doubt the future of the pact, formally called the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA. Most of the deal has been provisionally in force since 2017, but it must be ratified by all EU parliaments before fully entering into effect.
The deal eliminates almost all customs duties and increases quotas for certain key products in each other’s market. The EU said it will save its companies some 600 million euros a year in duties.
Implementing the full deal is also important for the EU as it tries to strike trade deals with other global partners and amid broader tensions in trade, particularly with the US and Britain in the aftermath of Brexit.
Deeply skeptical Dutch lawmakers debated legislation enabling the treaty over two tense days last week.
Overseas Trade Minister Sigrid Kaag urged parliament to support the pact “in times of geopolitical turbulence and great uncertainty.”
She said the deal “is also about values and shared values and how we see the future of our country: Open to the world, strongly embedded in the European Union, our European home.”
Supporters also point to a long history of strong relations between the Netherlands and Canada and even to the role of Canadian forces in the liberation of the Netherlands from Nazi occupation at the end of World War II.
But opposition lawmakers expressed fear that it will erode food safety standards and expose Dutch farmers to unfair competition because their Canadian counterparts have lower animal welfare standards and lower costs.
They expressed fears that a dispute mechanism built into the pact could undermine national sovereignty and expose the government to claims from multinationals — a view the government rejects.
If the legislation passes the lower house Feb. 18, it faces even more trouble in the upper house. Rutte’s coalition government does not have a majority in the Senate. If the legislation is rejected, Rutte could amend it and send it back to lawmakers.
Rutte had looked to have a comfortable majority when the deal was negotiated, but since then Dutch elections have realigned the makeup of his coalition. The Labour Party that helped negotiate the deal while in the ruling coalition is now in opposition and has withdrawn its support.
The vote is likely to hinge on ruling coalition member the ChristenUnie, which has sought reassurances from the government on various issues.