What Canada-EU Free Trade Deal?

- October 20th, 2013

Canada-Europe

HAMBURG — Sorry, Canada, Europe’s just not that into you. In a commercial sense, I mean.

 

Most Europeans still have a dewy-eyed puppy love for Canada as a romantic idea (an emotional state which, surprisingly, is often reinforced by an actual visit to the place).

 

But moose-and-mountain-land as a major economic partner linked to Europe by a multi-billion-dollar/Euro free trade pact? That just does not compute over here. It’s like comparing iPhones and, er, BlackBerries.

 

Not only does it not compute, it barely ruffles the surface of public consciousness in Europe — despite Stephen Harper calling Friday’s announcement of a Europe-Canada free trade pact-in-principle  “historic” and “a big deal.”

ceta-logo

Well, it’s neither if you ask the average informed European. I’ve asked quite a few in Britain and Germany over the past couple of days about this supposed “big deal” and not one of them had an inkling any kind of “new era for the European Union and Canada” (quoting EU President Jose Manuel Barosso) had been brokered.

 

(Since much of the EU trade with Canada, apart from cheese and wine, involves either Britain or Germany, those are the countries most likely to be aware of any big international trade news.)

 

Granted, the whole thing still has to be debated and approved by Canada’s 10 provinces and three territories and by all 28 individual member states of the European Union and the European Parliament — a process expected to take a minimum of two years, probably longer — before the free-trade pact supposedly comes into effect in 2015. And it will be at least a decade before all the proposed clearing of trade tariffs and investment impediments is finished.

 

But still, for something that’s being heralded as the second coming of NAFTA in Canada, you’d think it would warrant more than a ho-hum passing notice buried in the business section on the BBC website (below “Fire burns tonnes of sugar in Brazil”) or a four-paragraph squib in Frankfurter Allgemeine.

 

The “big deal” doesn’t even make it onto the front pages of the UK, France or Deutschland editions of Google News.

 

The Brits are more interested in stories with headlines like “Monkeys take turns in conversation” and “Vote for Scottish independence is act of self-belief.” (So am I, come to think of it.)

 

As for France, Google Actualités is all about L’Affaire Leonarda, Quentin Tarantino and “Nice plonge l’OM dans le doute” (which seems to be about football rivalry between the neighbouring cities of Nice and Marseilles, not about a nice cleavage). Nary a mention on the homepage about “Cherchez le fromage Oka” or “Vite,  vite, wheat, wheat.”

Jian-Ghomeshi

Currently getting bigger play than the free-trade deal in German newspapers is a DPA news-service profile of CBC host-interviewer Jian Ghomeshi, who is dubbed “Superstar” and “der Coolster Kanadier” — the coolest Canadian. Ghomeshi’s civilized but firm showdown with über-jerk Billy Bob Thornton is cited, and his sympathetic but penetrating interviews with the likes of Drake, Joni Mitchell, J.K. Rowling and Woody Allen are lauded.

 

Stephen Harper would kill — and I mean that almost literally, he really might kill — to get such fawning, high-falutin’ praise in the German press. But Harper just isn’t getting the same love. Not by a long shot.

 

If you want to know what the Belgians, Czechs and Greeks think about the Canada-EU “big deal,” you’re going to have to look it up yourself. But I can pretty much guarantee you’ll find nothing — nada, rien, niente, niets, rud, zero, sifar, wala, zippity-do-dah, nothing — on their Google News pages either.

 

None of this shows ignorance or lack of awareness on Europe’s part: It simply reflects the reality of the situation.

 

While Harper trumpets that the European Union is Canada’s second-largest trading partner (far behind the U.S., of course, but a solid step ahead of China), it’s not an equal equation for Europe.

 

Canada is not the EU’s second-largest trading partner (China is, with the U.S. being No. 1), or third-largest (Russia) or fourth-largest or fifth-largest trade partner (Switzerland and Norway, which aren’t members of the EU).

 

Hell, we’re not even in the top 10 like Brazil and India.

 

We are … wait for it … the European Union’s 12th-largest trading partner, getting only 1.6% of Europe’s international trade attention.

 

Canada is sandwiched between Saudi Arabia and Singapore. Singapore? Little, unforested, non-agricultural, mineral-free, non-BlackBerry-producing city-state Singapore did $65 billion worth of business with the EU in 2011, not that far behind the $74 billion worth of trade carried on between Europe and big, resource-rich, BlackBerry-producing Canada in the same year.

 

No wonder Europe was in no rush to cut a major trade deal with us. No wonder Stephen Harper had to bend and buckle so much to get his “big deal” pushed through while it still serves his purposes.

 

If you want to be an optimist — or Stephen Harper’s flack — you can look at this as providing a huge opportunity to gain market share: The sky’s the limit. If you want to be a realist, you can say Europe gets most of its wood from Scandinavia and Poland, most of its oil from Russia and the Mideast, and most of its wheat from France and Germany.

 

(Really. Canada is now a relative pipsqueak in terms of growing wheat, only the seventh largest producer of wheat in the world. France produced far more wheat than Canada in 2012, Germany produced almost as much, and the European Union as a whole produced five times as much wheat as Canada did in 2012. Did you really think all that Italian pasta you buy was made with Canadian wheat? If we didn’t have hockey-playing beavers and moose and mountains and American movie stars in Muskoka, if we didn’t have poutine and polar bears and Mayor Rob Ford and elephants in the Toronto Zoo [of course Rob Ford's not in the Toronto Zoo, silly ... but then neither are the elephants], we’d be almost bereft of a national identity these days. Oh, and BlackBerries, of course. We must never forget our BlackBerry heritage.)

hockey-playing-beaver

Of course, CETA (as those artful nerds and hipsters in the know call the free trade deal) will make some kind of difference to the Canada-Europe trade balance. But don’t be too sure that shift will be in Canada’s favour.

 

Europe already sells Canada a hell of a lot more stuff than it buys from us. Once BMWs and Volkswagens and Soaves and Cote du Rhones and prosciutto hams and Nike runners and Rolex watches and Kinder Surprise eggs (which are actually Italian, not German) and Birkenstocks and Prada diapers become cheaper on this side of the Atlantic, that imbalance may shift even further in Europe’s favour. Then, with all those extra loonies and toonies in their pockets, the Europeans can come over to Canada for cut-rate holidays and buy up any extra mineral-exploration and potash-producing companies and telecoms (hahahahahaha!) the Chinese and Singaporians have left lying around. Oh yeah, and it looks like they’ll be able to buy up Canadian water and infrastructure under the CETA deal, too.

 

The best thing about the deal, from my particular point of view, is that it will — theoretically — make European wines and cheeses more affordable and more widely available in Canada.

Wine_and_Cheese

That doesn’t make Canada’s vintners and dairy farmers very happy, but there is, after all, only so much Quebec cheddar and Niagara VQA baco noir you can consume before you shout, “Enough! Give me a wedge of Italian pecorino and a glass of Spanish tempranillo before I expire from ennui!”

 

Even when the Canada-EU deal is noted in Europe, very little mention is being made in the media of increased trade in wheat or potash (or pecorino or tempranillo) or the increased opportunities for Europeans to buy up Canadian corporate and natural assets. No, what’s really making the Europeans’ mouths water (if they know about the deal at all) is increased access to … Canadian steaks. Yep, they’ve got a real hankering for more — much more — of Alberta’s AAA prime beef.

Rindfleisch

“Wo is das Rindfleisch, Kanadier?” — “Where’s the beef, Jian Ghomeshi?” — Germans shout at me as I drive by with tiny, diplomat-sized Maple Leaf flags fluttering from stanchions on the front fenders of the Hispano-Suiza.

 

I just wave regally and make a great show of ripping up publicity photos of Billy Bob Thornton to vast, heaving swells of applause and cheers. Then I throw out free samples of surplus BlackBerries to sudden, oppressive silence.

Billy-Bob-Buffoon

Canada and Europe, friends forever, a united front — if only in our profound dislike of Billy Bob Thornton and sourness toward the BlackBerry. As for the trade issue, that will sort itself out in due course. It’s really not such a big deal.

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1 comment

  1. menisino says:

    Of course, when the U.S. signs a deal with the E.U. they will just stand by & let the Canadians have it all or most of it if u believe the government. The real truth is Canada will compete against the U.S. in a “Free For All”, cause that’s what it will become. Any other country on the horizon?…maybe Russia ,etc…No, its not a free trade its a free for all with the small companies/cottage industries going by the waste side…Remember Ross Perrot about that “sucking sound”?This deal is all about Harpers re-election & todays deflection on the senate scandal .

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