Canada has shown us we were right to leave the EU

Canada has shown us we were right to leave the EU

In what comes as no surprise for many politicians, economists and journalists, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the European Union and Canada has all but failed. On Friday, Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s trade minister, left the negotiating table in Belgium after talks to ratify CETA broke down with Wallonia’s Minister-President, Paul Magnette.

Wallonia is one of Belgium’s three regions, accounting for 55% of the territory of Belgium, and boasts one cow for every three people. And yet, this region (consisting of a mere 3.5 million people) has effectively vetoed a €5.8 billion per year trade deal with 508 million EU citizens, that would add $12 billion to the Canadian economy and increase bilateral trade by 20 per cent.

And why? Because CETA would eliminate 99% of customs duties between Canada and the EU, and Wallonia’s hugely subsidised farmers despise the thought of cheap Canadian competition. In fact, they despise it so much, farmers across the region staged a mass protest outside the regional parliament on 14th October, and consequentially, the parliament of Wallonia voted to block the trade agreement.

The European Commission is solely in charge of negotiating trade deals with Canada, but because Belgium’s constitution gives regional parliaments the opportunity to vote on trade agreements, Wallonia has effectively hammered the final nail in the CETA coffin by delivering its own veto.

In a last ditch attempt to rescue the deal, Freeland postponed plans to travel to the World Trade Organisation talks in Norway so she could help negotiate a solution. However, after hours of discussion with Magnette, Freeland left the negotiating table on the verge of tears, saying:

“Canada worked really hard, and me personally, I worked very hard, [but] it’s become evident for me, for Canada, that the European Union isn’t capable now to have an international treaty even with a country that has very European values like Canada… I’ve worked very, very hard, but I think it’s impossible. We have decided to return home… it is emotional for me.”

For now, CETA will remain in “negotiation limbo”; if the trade agreement does not receive unanimous support from all 28 EU member states, it cannot be ratified. The deal has taken over seven years to finalise, and Wallonia is the last holdout, but given the region’s severe objections to the agreement, the chances are that the signing ceremony planned for next week (with Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau) will be cancelled.

Prior to the referendum, I remember one of the great arguments used by Remain voters was that “the UK will be useless negotiating its own trade deals outside of the EU”. I now fail to see how this is even close to a reasonable argument, because the EU is clearly useless at negotiating its own trade deals, period.

I live in Canada, and am actively involved in Canadian politics, so believe me when I say that Canadians are the most accommodating people with whom to do business. If the world’s largest trading bloc can’t even finalise a trade deal after seven years with a nation which is eager to reduce tariffs, customs duties and bureaucracy, then take it from me, there is very little hope of success for the EU, now or in the future.

As an independent nation free from the EU, the UK can finalise its own trade deals across the world with countries that are already eager to do business, such as Australia, New Zealand and India. Canada has already expressed tremendous interest in beginning trade negotiations with the UK and, acting independently, we would not need to worry about small regions in the EU causing delays.

There would be no need to rely on 27 other member states agreeing to a deal that will provide significant economic benefits to businesses and its consumers, and most importantly, we would not have to wait multiple years for parliaments to debate and assess disputes from small populations on the continent who only serve their own self-interests.

Theresa May has made it clear that we can’t begin negotiations for our own trade deals until Article 50 is invoked next year (and said negotiations can of course take up to two years), but I guarantee you that we will achieve far more trading opportunities in those two years acting independently than we will chained to the bureaucracy of the EU.

CETA is a deal that has been plagued with issues from the beginning, solely because it directly involves the European Union. Canada may be leaving the negotiating table empty-handed this time, but our Commonwealth neighbours will surely have a swift and comprehensive trade deal with the UK in no time at all once we are an independent, sovereign nation once again.