Feb. 15 (UPI) — The European Union’s Parliament approved a free trade deal with Canada on Wednesday as several hundred protesters demonstrated outside the building in Strasbourg, France.
Lawmakers approved the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, 408-254, after seven years of negotiations. Abstaining were 33 members.
CETA will remove 99 percent of customs duties between the two sides, benefiting European exporters.
In 2016, the EU exported $39 billion of goods and services to Canada and imported $30 billion, according to Statistics Canada. The deal will increase bilateral trade in goods and services by more than 20 percent, according to a joint EU-Canada study.
Proponents say this will create jobs and reduce the cost of food and consumer goods. But opponents fear that the quality of consumer goods could deteriorate with eroding labor laws and lower environmental standards.
EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said the deal would not cut into the independence of EU decision-making as alleged. She said it would “not change food safety standards or any other EU requirements, only the EU institutions can do that.”
Police reported 700 people protested. They were dressed in white suits and laid down to form a human chain
“To say yes to CETA is to trample the people,” read one banner.
Parts of the deal, including tariff reduction, will go into effect immediately, but some portions, including investments, will only be enacted after clearance by more than 30 European parliaments and the assemblies of Belgium’s regions.
“EU companies and citizens will start to reap the benefits the agreement offers as soon as possible,”
said EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who called it “an important milestone.”
“CETA cuts red tape and removes almost all tariffs from day one,” Malmstroem said.
Canada’s Parliament is also expected to ratify the deal in the coming months. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was heading to France to deliver his own pro-trade message Thursday to the Parliament and to top business leaders a day later in Germany.
“This is the right deal at the right time. Good for workers, consumers and a new standard for trade,” said Canada’s international trade minister, Francois-Philippe Champagne, who was in Strasbourg.