Canada is an important trading partner of the European Union, and within the EU Canada’s highest volume of trade is with the UK.
The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada is a fantastic deal in terms of the access European firms will get to Canadian markets. CETA will eliminate virtually all tariffs, and for the first time Canada has opened up its government contracts at the province and city levels. Both will create more opportunities for British businesses to export even more goods and services to Canada.
This deal will also mean a reduction in time-consuming paperwork for our exporters. Scotch Whisky, for example, which already accounts for 20% of UK exports to Canada and supports 40,000 jobs across the UK, will benefit from fewer local legal restrictions and the removal of costly red tape. The Scotch Whisky Association has therefore called CETA “an important deal for UK distillers”. As a growing market for quality Scottish products, I hope increased trade with Canada can help protect and create jobs in Scotland, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises.
Citizens have raised concerns throughout the process and the European social democrats have responded quickly and effectively, securing unprecedented changes to the text of the agreement. Through what is called a ‘joint interpretative instrument’ agreed by both the EU and Canada, we have solid legal guarantees on issues that are important to British voters, like the NHS, workers’ rights and the environment. We have made it clear that international trade should not cause a race to the bottom, and this agreement respects this and reinforces current high standards.
We also successfully fought for the removal of the toxic Investor-State-Dispute-Settlement (ISDS), which had led to some damaging court cases against legitimate government decisions around the world. In its place there is a new transparent public court staffed by well-qualified judges who must adhere to a strict code of conduct. Governments must be free to regulate in the best interests of their citizens. This new court guarantees this right, whilst encouraging investment.
In many ways the centre-left group in the parliament has been a victim of its own successes with CETA. Looking back at our unprecedented achievements, some believe that we could and should try to push for even more. Although I have some sympathy with this position, I am convinced that now is the time ratify this deal. CETA is the most progressive trade deal ever negotiated and we should celebrate our successes.
The Canadians share most of our dearest values and CETA should be seen as a way of strengthening our bilateral relationship on a progressive basis, whilst providing important economic opportunities for Scotland. Furthermore, political events across the Atlantic demand that the EU takes a lead now on trade issues.
We are entering a new era for global trade. Faced with unfettered globalisation on the one hand and Trump-style protectionism on the other, modern trade agreements like CETA can help set progressive global rules.
This is a monthly column by Labour MEP for Scotland David Martin