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Three reasons for CETA: remarks to a conference by the Federation of Belgian Enterprises

Date: October 26, 2016

Publication Type: Speeches

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Check against delivery.

Trade agreements that are as comprehensive and progressive as CETA are, by definition, complex. But the case for approving CETA is actually pretty simple. And since I promised that I would keep my remarks short, I would like to give you three quick reasons why I believe this agreement will benefit Belgium and deserves your strong support.

First, CETA will boost economic growth.  That may seem like an obvious point for anyone who understands economic history, but it’s a point that deserves to be emphasized given that we are living at a time of slow growth in developed markets around the world.

To put it another way, CETA is the right agreement at the right time – an agreement that will deliver jobs and increased trade at a time when our economies need all the help they can get.

Belgians already know how important it is to secure full and fair access to international markets. More than three-quarters of a million jobs in Belgium depend on the European Union’s exports to the rest of the world. And that number is rising as the world’s economy becomes increasingly integrated.

In this day and age, it only makes sense that Belgian exporters would be looking for improved access to markets where companies and consumers are ready and willing to buy. And CETA will deliver on that promise.

On the day it goes into effect, more than 98 per cent of customs duties on trade between the EU and Canada will disappear. At the same time, CETA will reduce or eliminate a wide range of technical barriers to trade.

But that’s not all. CETA ensures that Belgian and other European firms will be free to compete for Canadian government tenders at all levels of government – federal, provincial and municipal. Plus, CETA will make it easier for qualified Belgian and other EU professionals to work in Canada, thanks to a new labour mobility framework that provides for mutual recognition of their qualifications.

When you add it all up, CETA is expected to increase commercial activity between the EU and Canada by nearly 25 per cent, generating 12 billion euros a year in additional economic output.

Most importantly, it does all of this without damaging the environment, lowering labour standards or threatening consumer health and safety.

So that’s reason number one.

 The second reason is that it sends a positive and hopeful signal to the rest of the world about the benefits of international economic cooperation.

Since the end of the Second World War, trade has been the principal means by which our countries have grown and prospered. As trade has flourished, incomes have increased and workers have benefited from new opportunities. Here in Belgium, the average citizen has enjoyed an increase in his or her standard of living of over 40 per cent since joining the WTO in 1995.

If we continue along the path of openness to new opportunity, there’s no reason why this process of increased trade and prosperity can’t continue. But right now, our economies and our societies are threatened by a strain of populism that seeks to build walls between us rather than bridges.

We Canadians only need to look south to see the destructive power of this rising anti-trade sentiment.

I’m not just talking about Donald Trump and his threats to abrogate existing trade agreements such as NAFTA and put the plug on new ones like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Because the truth is, Trump is not alone. Bernie Sanders is about as far from Trump on the US political spectrum as it is possible to get, and yet he too claims that the United States is getting a raw deal from the rest of the world on trade.  And many millions of Americans believe it, which is why protectionism in Congress is on the rise – and why even the presidential frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, is reluctant to speak out in favour of trade.

The implications of this are potentially far-reaching.

For more than 60 years, the United States has been a champion not just of trade liberalization but of other forms of international cooperation such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and more recently, the Global Health Security Agenda. For much of that time, Americans enjoyed a standard of living that was significantly higher than those of its major trading partners. But now growth has slowed, other countries have caught up, and Americans are turning inward.

In this environment, it is hard to imagine that the current negotiations on a trade agreement between the EU and US will progress much further. And that, too, is a powerful argument for CETA. At a time when US protectionism is on the rise, CETA offers Belgian and other European companies an important North American beachhead – a welcoming base for operations that can service an entire continent of close to 500 million consumers.

Which brings me to the third reason why I believe CETA will benefit Belgium and deserves your support: simply put, Canada is the right partner for Europe.

Yes, we share an 8,891 km border with the United States, and we enjoy a cross-border trading relationship that is the envy of countries around the world. But Canada is not the United States.

Cecilia Malmström, the EU Commissioner for Trade, expressed this eloquently in a speech here in Brussels just last month.

She said Canada is a country that, more than most others around the world, shares your European values.

Canadians believe that open markets and integration with the world economy are vital drivers of prosperity and innovation.

But Canadians also support strong, effective public services, including universal, publicly funded healthcare.

Equally important, Canadians recognize and respect the important role of the state in regulating the economy. To give just one example, our federal government recently announced plans for an economy-wide carbon tax, which will take effect in 2018 and increase year-by-year until it reaches $50 a tonne in 2022.

In doing this, our government is acting not in defiance of public opinion but in tune with it, since polls show that the overwhelming majority of Canadians support strong and effective action to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

I think it goes without saying that when two jurisdictions hold common values, it is vastly easier to strike an agreement between them on something as fundamental as economic cooperation. And that, I believe, is the story of CETA. Fundamentally, this agreement is proof that like-minded partners can come together in a spirit of inclusiveness, to improve opportunities for their citizens.

Through CETA, the EU and Canada have agreed to safeguard important public services such as healthcare. The agreement guarantees that local, regional and national authorities will retain their ability to provide public services as they wish. There is no obligation to privatize anything.

Beyond that, CETA enshrines government’s right to regulate in the public interest to achieve legitimate public policy objectives – objectives such as the protection and promotion of public health, social services, public education, safety, the environment, public morals, social or consumer protection and the promotion and protection of cultural diversity.

And of course, CETA commits both Canada and the EU to improving their laws and policies with the goal of providing high levels of consumer, labour and environmental protection.  That, too, is a reflection of our common values and outlook on the world.

Ladies and gentlemen, I promised you that I would be brief. In closing, I would like to thank you for giving me this opportunity to outline three reasons why I believe CETA will benefit Belgium and deserves your full support.

First, CETA will boost economic growth at a time when our economies badly need a shot in the arm.

Second, CETA sends a positive signal to the world about the benefits of economic cooperation;

And third, Canada is the right partner for Belgium and for Europe – a country that shares your values and understands the need for an appropriate balance between private and public interests.

Thank you.