02/14/2017 23:46 EST | Updated 02/15/2018 00:12 EST

EU on the verge of approving trade deal with Canada

BRUSSELS — The European Union Commission and most of the major parliamentary groups are making a final push to approve a landmark trade deal with Canada ahead of a decisive vote in the EU's legislature.

At the same time, hundreds of protesters were already outside the parliament building in Strasbourg, France, arguing that instead of growth and jobs, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement or CETA, will bring an erosion of environmental, labour and consumer standards.

Ahead of the noon vote, EU trade Chief Cecilia Malmstrom tried to assuage concerns that the deal uniting some 500 million Europeans with 35 million Canadians would cut into the independence of EU decision-making.

She said it "will not change food safety standards or any other EU requirements, only the EU institutions can do that."

The vote comes a day before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is scheduled to arrive in Europe to push the merits of free trade in the face of increasingly hostile, populist opposition.

Trudeau is to deliver a pro-trade message in an address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France on Thursday — a first for a Canadian leader — and to top business leaders a day later in Germany.

Ratification of CETA by the European Parliament will pave the way for 90 per cent of it to come into force once Canada's Parliament follows suit in the coming months. 

— with files from The Associated Press