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French lawmakers kick off debate on contentious EU-Canada trade deal

Philippe Lopez, AFP | People take part in a demonstration against the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) in Paris on July 16, 2019.

French lawmakers in the National Assembly on Wednesday began debating a controversial trade deal between the European Union and Canada. A vote is expected next week.

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The EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) was approved by the European Parliament two years ago, but it must also be ratified by each of the member states of the European Union to become permanent.

The deal removes tariffs on 98 percent of goods and services between Canada and Europe, which the EU says eliminates 590 million (CA$890m or US$665m) in customs duties each year.

In France, CETA has faced staunch opposition from both farmers and environmentalists, who argue it puts the country’s food safety and environmental standards at risk by opening markets to greater competition.

More than 70 organisations – including farmers unions, Greenpeace and other advocacy groups – have “solemnly” called on lawmakers in the National Assembly to reject the deal.

The 'dangers' of CETA

‘Very positive,’ says government, activists disagree

Yet the French government has dismissed opposition to the agreement, which it said had a “very positive” impact between 2017 and 2018 by increasing imports to Canada by 6.6 percent.

Addressing the National Assembly Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian defended the “important agreement” at a time of “worrying” trade relations between nations.

"In an uncertain world…the deep and ancient ties that bind Europe and Canada are particularly valuable," said Le Drian. He also praised the deal’s “positive” provisional application for nearly two years.

Activists, however, criticised Canada for attacking EU food security and consumer rights.

“Canada has already attacked European Union decisions based on precautionary principles in the past [like] for instance, when we banned, 20 years ago, the import of hormone beef,” explained Karine Jacquemart, executive director of the Berlin-based advocacy group, Foodwatch. “The problem is Canada is currently, right now at the WTO [World Trade Organization] contesting some decisions in Europe.”

CETA is largely expected to be ratified by the National Assembly, given the large majority enjoyed by President Emmanuel Macron's ruling Republic on the Move party. It will then be put to a vote in the Senate at an as of yet unspecified date.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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