STRASBOURG, France: The European Parliament holds a landmark vote Wednesday on a contested EU-Canada free trade deal amid rising anti-globalization sentiment in Europe.
If MEPs back the pact, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to address the parliament in Strasbourg, France on Thursday.
The EU and Canada formally signed the deal in October after seven years of tough talks, overcoming last-minute resistance from a small Belgian region that blocked its national government from approving the accord.
EU leaders hopes for a symbolic show of support from the parliament for an imperilled global trade system that also faces a threat from the protectionist US President Donald Trump.
But opponents to the accord, which is known as CETA, delivered a petition to parliament with three and a half million signatures, slamming the deal as a danger to health, democracy and the rule of law.
Despite the pushback, the deal is widely expected to pass, with votes by conservatives, liberals and a divided socialist bloc seen as enough to get it through.
“CETA is the best trade agreement the EU has ever concluded. It will bring Canada and Europe even closer together,” said German MEP Manfred Weber, the head of the conservative EPP group, the parliament’s biggest bloc.
Approval by MEPs will allow the provisional implementation of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) as early as March.
Model for Brexit
Some of the more controversial aspects, including a much-derided investor court system, will require ratification by EU member states, which could take years.
The EU is very ambitious about the deal, calling it Europe’s most modern ever, and saying it will become a template for later deals, including with post-Brexit Britain.
CETA will remove 99 percent of customs duties between the two sides, in a big win for European exporters.
And unlike classic trade deals, CETA also attempts to harmonize regulations on matters such as health and the environment.
A flashpoint for opponents is a proposal to set up special courts to settle disputes between investors and national authorities that is central to the deal.
Opponents led by Greenpeace and Foodwatch believe this provision hands too much power to multinationals that will use powerful lawyers to undermine national regulation.
The vote comes at a particularly sensitive time for global trade matters, with Britain poised to leave the European Union and new US president Trump rejecting an Asia-Pacific trade deal.
Trump is also widely expected to drop a similar proposed deal with the EU known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or TTIP.
Trudeau met with Trump on Monday in Washington.
Trump had vowed to put “America first” and rip up the North America Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, but significantly toned down that rhetoric after meeting Trudeau. AFP