OTTAWA—A major trade agreement with Canada has the backing of all 28 European Union (EU) countries after last minute opposition from Germany had threatened to scuttle the deal, leaders said last week.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy gave those assurances alongside Prime Minister Stephen Harper at a press conference to announce the closing of five tough years of negotiations.
German opposition to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) had resurfaced on Sept. 25, over concerns it could not support the clause that allows private companies to sue governments.
However, Barroso said that opposition has since been quelled and all the official communications they’ve received from Germany “were absolutely in favour of this agreement.”
“It would be very strange if it were to be otherwise because, if I may add, the country that is going to benefit the most from this agreement is, indeed, Germany.”
Harper appeared pleased by the show of support and played down any voices of opposition.
“I expect this kind of thing will happen, but in the end we have an agreement … we have all and those we represent committed to it and we will honour those commitments,” he said.
Almost a year ago, Harper flew to Brussels with great fanfare for a signing ceremony on a deal in principle.
Last October, Barroso heaped praise on Harper as a tough negotiator, in an attempt to give him political cover against opponents. Last week, he called Canadian negotiators “extremely able and strong and determined” eliciting laughter from the Canadian delegation seated before him.
But that was not enough to mute concern from Canadian supporters and detractors.
Liberal trade critic Chrystia Freeland said her party supports a free-trade deal with Europe, but she’s concerned by the discontent coming from countries such as Germany.
New Democrat leader Tom Mulcair sided with the concerns coming out of Germany over the clause that allows private companies to sue governments.
Like some in Germany, Mulcair said the provisions will deprive Canada of sovereignty when it comes to regulating some sectors.
“Foreign corporations will get to make determinations as to the rules regarding health,” he said.
Former Quebec premier Jean Charest, one of the early backers of the Canada-EU trade talks, said a vocal minority in the European Parliament will oppose ratification but the majority will approve the deal.