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Italy threatens not to ratify EU-Canada trade deal

© AFP/File | Italian farmers held protests in 2017 against the EU-Canada free trade agreement

MILAN (AFP) - 

Italy's anti-establishment government on Thursday threatened not to ratify an EU-Canada trade deal, claiming it does not protect the country's farmers and specialty produce.

But the Canadian government insisted it remains confident that all parties will eventually approve the deal.

The European Union and Canada formally signed the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) in October 2016, at a time when anti-globalisation sentiment was at fever pitch in Europe.

The accord eliminates 98 percent of tariffs between the EU and Canada.

Its opponents have long branded it as a danger to health, democracy and the rule of law.

Farmers in Italy protested in 2017, demanding that the government scrap the pact.

They wanted specialty products like Parmesan cheese to be labelled "Made in Italy".

CETA's supporters see the pact as an extension of the global trade system that faces a threat from protectionist US President Donald Trump.

The global system has also come under attack from eurosceptics and anti-establishment parties like those swept to power in Italy in a March vote.

In an interview published in Italian daily La Stampa on Thursday, Agriculture Minister Gian Marco Centinaio said: "We will not ratify the free-trade agreement with Canada because it only protects a small part of our protected designation of origin (PDO) and protected geographical indication (PGI) produce."

He added: "We will ask parliament not to ratify this treaty or others similar to CETA."

Centinaio said the decision was covered in the joint government contract published by the populist coalition government made up of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the far-right League.

Centinaio, a League member, said that his decision did not reflect just the nationalist position of his party, but that "doubts over this agreement are common among my European colleagues".

- Canada confident -

Italy's leading farming union welcomed the minister's move, as its leader Roberto Moncalvo branding it as "the right choice regarding a bad and dangerous deal".

But Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland downplayed Centinaio's threat, saying: "I'm confident we will have full ratification in the end."

Austria, whose Chancellor Sebastian Kurz's conservative party is in coalition with the far-right, ratified CETA on Wednesday.

Freeland noted that the accord had provisionally come into force last September. "Nearly 100 percent of the real economic impact and benefit of CETA is already being felt by Canadians, and by Europeans," she said.

Freeland also mentioned having had "a good conversation about CETA" with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte at last weekend's G7 summit in the Canadian province of Quebec.

The Canadian minister was in Washington this week pressing lawmakers and officials in a bid to salvage a continental trade pact with the United States and Mexico, and to try to convince the administration of President Donald Trump to repeal punishing steel and aluminium tariffs.

Sparking a huge international row and fears of an all-out trade war, Trump has railed against key institutions of the international trade system, chiefly the World Trade Organization.

The European Commission did not appear too concerned, however, by the Italian minister's announcement on CETA.

"We have seen the announcement... The Commission is working closely with our member states to ensure that our trade policies are mutually beneficial," commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters in Brussels.

© 2018 AFP