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Will Harper try to ratify CETA by June?

During the last federal election campaign, Stephen Harper pledged to sign a ‘free trade’ agreement with the European Union by 2012. At a campaign stop in Halifax on March 31, 2011 he stated, “My message today is that a re-elected Conservative government will move ahead full throttle to complete historic free trade agreements with the European Union and India.”

Four years later, the Canada-India ‘free trade’ talks are stalled and the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) has not been officially completed despite well-publicized ‘signing’ ceremonies in October 2013 in Brussels and September 2014 in Ottawa.

Ed Fast, the minister of international trade, and Gerry Ritz, the minister of agriculture and agri-food, recently wrote the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food that, “The government is committed to the implementation of the Canada-EU trade agreement on a priority basis. Once negotiations are concluded, the government will move forward expeditiously.” This has led to some speculation that there may be movement on the ratification of CETA in Canada before the House of Commons recesses for the summer on June 23. The House is scheduled to reconvene on September 21, but there would only be 15 sitting days (at most) prior to the October 19 federal election.

While Harper may see some utility in trying to ratify the deal in Canada prior to the federal election, just as he trumpeted the deal in his 2011 election campaign, he would certainly run into some political realities in Europe.

First of all, it is generally believed that the ratification process in Europe won’t begin until January 2016 with votes in the national legislatures of the 28-member states, followed by a vote in the European Parliament in April 2016. The Syriza government in Greece is not likely to ratify CETA and if its investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provision is unchanged the whole deal could be defeated in the European Parliament.

And secondly, Germany, France and other European governments still want to renegotiate that ISDS provision. During her February 2015 visit to Ottawa, German chancellor Angela Merkel commented in diplomatic terms, “We are currently in the process of transposing the agreement into law, and there are still a few matters that must be clarified.”

Still, we will keep a close watch on this. The Conservatives with their 160 seat majority in the House of Commons could easily ratify CETA should they opt to do so before the summer break. The Liberals back the agreement too and could add their 36 seats to that vote. And given the New Democrats still have not rejected CETA – and could well support it for fear of being slammed as “anti-trade” by the other parties during the federal election – it is conceivable that their 95 seats could also be lined up behind CETA just as they voted for the Canada-South Korea Free Trade Agreement (and its ISDS provision) in September 2014.