Canada Focusing on EU Trade Pact Before U.K. Deal, Minister Says

The Canadian government is focused on ratifying a trade agreement with the European Union despite Brexit, International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland said, downplaying a report the government has begun talks for a bilateral trade deal with the U.K.

Freeland met with Britain’s new Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox on Friday in London. Though Fox said the two commenced “very fruitful” trade negotiations, according to a report in London’s Sunday Times, Canada’s priority is to enact and ratify the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement in 2017 while the U.K. is still part of the EU.

“We had a very positive conversation with the secretary,” Freeland spokesman Alex Lawrence said Sunday in a statement, responding questions about Fox’s comments. Freeland “shared details about the trade negotiating team in her department, and the two committed to work together to ratify CETA as quickly as possible.”

The EU has put its landmark free-trade accord with Canada on a slow track for approval, increasing the risk of a veto amid an anti-globalization backlash across Europe. The pact will now need the approval of each EU member state’s individual parliament, as well as both the European Council and European Parliament. The sides had initially hoped to avoid sending the deal to each national parliament for approval.

The pact still can be enacted provisionally once the EU Council unanimously approves and the European Parliament passes it with a simple majority, Canadian officials told reporters this month.

The EU is Canada’s No. 2 trade partner after the U.S., and Canada is the EU’s 12th biggest, according to the commission. EU-Canada trade in goods was 59.1 billion euros ($65.2 billion) in 2014, while services commerce totaled 27.2 billion euros.

Canada expects the deal to be enacted provisionally in 2017, with ratification by parliaments to take years. Brexit doesn’t change the CETA ratification process and it’s possible that CETA will come into effect while the UK is still a member of the EU, the Canadian officials said. The impact of Britain’s departure from the EU on trade deals already provisionally enacted is still unclear. 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said this month he was “very, very optimistic” about the deal, while Freeland has voiced concern over rising waves of protectionist sentiment that threaten major trade agreements.

The pact would add 12 billion euros annually to EU economic output while increasing Canada-EU trade by roughly a quarter, according to EU estimates.

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