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By Bengt Ljung
Sept. 22 — European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem hopes to overcome EU trade ministers' resistance to an EU-Canada free-trade deal during a meeting Sept. 23 in Bratislava, Slovakia.
A joint declaration with Canada could allay some EU governments' fears of that public services, labor rights and environmental protection could be endangered, Malmstroem told Bloomberg BNA the day before the meeting of trade ministers from 28 EU countries.
Clarifying ministers' concerns could pave the way for full approval in October, she said. “I want to hear how the member states look at this, if it could be enough, a path forward.”
“I hope that the ministers can state that they feel ready within a few days to take a decision and sign the Canada agreement,” she told Bloomberg BNA of Sept. 22.
A strong anti-trade movement in Europe has whipped up opposition against the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and even more against the EU-U.S. accord, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which will have a less prominent role at the meeting.
“CETA is the most urgent agenda item because it's finished, it's ready to be ratified,” Malmstroem said.
With Germany firmly in the “yes camp” this week, the opponents now appear to be Austria and Belgium, she said, adding that the decision requires unanimity among the 28 EU countries.
After an unruly debate through the media, the time is right for trade ministers to discuss the Canadian deal face to face, she said.
The formal EU decision on CETA is scheduled for a foreign ministers' meeting Oct. 18.
At the Bratislava meeting, Malmstroem will report to the ministers on the European Commission's ongoing TTIP negotiations with the U.S.
“We have made some progress over the summer, but it's clear that quite a bit remains. It's not a deal that will land on the member states' desks anytime soon,” she said.
The trade commissioner repeated that with each day passing, it becomes more unlikely to reach the goal of finishing TTIP under the Obama administration.
“There's a lot left, and the election debate in the U.S. makes it more complicated,” the commissioner said, adding that there has been insufficient movement in areas the EU considers to be crucial.
“But it's important that we try to finish as much as possible under this administration and the Commission is ready to work until Jan. 19,” she said, referring to the day President Barack Obama will step down.
In the past, “fairly dramatic things” have happened after U.S. elections in lame-duck sessions. If Obama succeeds during that period and Congress ratifies the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), it would make things easier for TTIP, she said.
Malmstroem was attending a conference in Bratislava along with Canada's Minister for International Trade Chrystia Freeland, who was also promoting CETA.
Freeland praised the deal and said she saw it as a way to spread progressive trade policy to the world, with greater environmental protection as the top priority.
“Our government is so enthusiastic about CETA because Canada won't figure out a progressive trade policy on its own. We need a partner and the EU is the best there is for this,” she said.
“We have shared values. We believe in a social welfare state and also in the market,” she said.
Freeland said she was particularly proud of the groundbreaking concept in CETA of an investment court system for protecting investments.
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