Prime Minister Stephen Harper preliminarily signed a landmark free trade agreement with the European Union on Friday, ushering in a political process that could last several years as the deal’s nuts and bolts are ironed out and Canadian provinces and EU member states deliberate the pact.
The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) is being billed as the largest trade deal Canada has ever signed, given that the EU’s 28 countries comprise a $17-trillion integrated economy — larger than the North American free trade area. Some 98 per cent of all tariffs on goods travelling between Canada and the EU will be removed, and trade is projected to increase by 23 per cent.
"This is the Wayne Gretzky of trade deals," said Jayson Myers, president and CEO of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters.
But the devil, as they say, is in the details, and so far the Harper government has released few details. Reporters got access to some CETA documents on Friday, but they were vague and, in the words of the Globe and Mail's Bill Curry, the documents “don't list what Canada gave up.”
The Harper government’s political opponents are already pressuring the prime minister to release the full text of the trade treaty.
"Today's announcement contains a lot of hype. Canadians are still left waiting to read the fine print. Why won't this government just release the text of this deal and let Canadians judge it for themselves?" NDP MP David Christopherson asked.
"If this deal is so important, shouldn't Canadians have the chance to accept or reject it?" asked Maude Barlow, head of the Council of Canadians.
That may be a little difficult, as Harper signed an "agreement in principle" in Brussels on Friday, and not the actual text, parts of which have yet to be hammered out.
All the same, Barlow’s group has declared a “two-year campaign to stop CETA ratification.”
But Harper says this sort of thing is folly.
"I think anyone who opposes [CETA] will lose and make a big historic mistake politically for so doing," the prime minister said.
It may be some time yet before we have all the details, but here's what we know so far:
Then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper preliminary signed CETA with European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso in 2013. The deal has been slowly moving through the ratification process ever since. Pictured: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso shake hands following a joint media availability Friday, October 18, 2013 at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium.
Canada will partially extend patent protection for brand-name drugs, which would delay the introduction of cheaper generics by up to two years. Officials say it will be eight years before any impact of these changes show up as higher costs for provincial drug plans. Earlier reports have suggested the cost to the health care system of extended drug patents could run between $1 billion and $3 billion annually.
Domestic car producers will be able to increase sales into Europe to 100,000 units from about 10,000 today under relaxed rules. The EU will phase out its 10-per-cent tariff on imports, and Canada will phase out a 6-per-cent tariff on European car imports. That could be good news for Canadian fans of European luxury cars, as those vehicles will be cheaper. But that, in turn, could be bad news for Canadian auto manufacturers.
Canadian beef farmers can increase their quota by 50,000 tonnes, in addition to 15,000 tonnes for high-quality beef. Pork farmers will see their quota rise to 80,000 tonnes from the current 6,000. But producers will have to convert to hormone-free product for the European market, which experts say can add about 15 per cent to costs.
Companies will be allowed to bid on major government procurement contracts right down to the municipal level. A joint study showed the new access will give European companies leeway to bid on federal contracts worth between $15 billion and $19 billion an year, and municipal contracts worth $112 billion a year. Critics say that, because of the common practice of "hiring Canadian" in government contracts, EU access to them could mean job losses in Canada.
Foreign takeovers of Canadian firms now require a formal federal government review if the deal is worth $1 billion or more, but this agreement will raise that to $1.5 billion.
— With files from The Canadian Press