OTTAWA — The massive free trade pact between Canada and the European Union will, for the most part, be a done deal in one year even if it is not fully ratified, says Europe's top envoy.
Marie-Anne Coninsx, the EU ambassador to Canada, said the final text of the comprehensive deal on goods and services, known as CETA, will be presented to the European Parliament by mid-2016.
"The most important stage in order to start implementation will be the agreement of the European Parliament, the consent of the European Parliament," Coninsx said in an interview.
"If the parliament says yes, at that moment, the agreement can start its provisional implementation."
Provisional implementation means that the vast majority of the sweeping deal on goods and services will apply to all areas that are the "exclusive competence of the European Union, which means more than 90 per cent," she said.
Asked when she saw that happening, Coninsx replied: "entry into force, early 2017."
That doesn't in any way diminish the role of the EU's 28 member states in debating and ratifying the deal, said Coninsx, who called it "the most ambitious trade agreement ever concluded by the EU."
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, left, waves as he meets President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso in Brussels on Friday, Oct. 18, 2013. The Harper government negotiated the Canada-EU trade deal, seeing it as a jewel in its economic crown. (Canadian Press photo)
But the diplomat's remarks are among the clearest to date on addressing what is seen by some as an impediment towards bringing the deal in for a long-awaited landing: an unhappy European country with an axe to grind torpedoing the deal in the final stages. Negotiations for the deal started in 2009.
It may also assuage Canada's Liberal government, which must now finalize a deal that the previous Conservative government saw as the jewel in its economic crown.
Both parties are currently engaged in a legal 'scrub' of the consolidated text and translating it into French and the 21 other official EU treaty languages. We will then begin the process of approving the agreement in Canada and the EU.
Federal officials who briefed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last fall painted a more downbeat picture, suggesting it could take until 2018 to finalize the deal.
"In the EU, endorsement for the CETA will involve various approval steps within EU institutions, through which the governments of each 28 member states exert varying degrees of influence, before an agreement can be signed," says a memo prepared for Trudeau, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.
"Implementation is likely to require ratification by all 28 member states, a process that is expected to take at least two years after EU institutions approve the agreement."
Coninsx also dismissed any suggestion that the investor-state dispute resolution process, or ISDS, would be an impediment to reaching the deal.
Groups such as the Council of Canadians are in Europe campaigning to fuel opposition to the deal.
"It's mainly led by many people who are anti-U.S., anti-globalization," she said.
Coninsx said CETA has a built-in "modern mechanism" to deal with ISDS, and said that while there "might be some fine tuning for CETA in it, but no re-opening of the agreement."
The so-called legal scrubbing, and the final translation of the text into the EU's more than 20 official languages as well Canada’s two, is being done at a robust pace, with lots of teleconferencing between Brussels and Ottawa, she added.
"We have not been dragging our feet. Canadians neither."