Canada sees no guarantees on EU trade pact, hard work ahead

OTTAWA (Reuters) - There are no guarantees a free trade deal between Canada and the European Union will come into force and a lot of hard work still needs to be done, Canadian Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Thursday.

Canada's International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada, February 17, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) faces increasing opposition in some of the EU’s 28 member states as well as from European trade unions.

“We’re taking nothing for granted and nothing is guaranteed,” Freeland said in a phone interview from Paris where she attended a meeting of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

“I certainly am optimistic while believing we have to work very, very hard,” she added.

Canada and the EU, which say CETA could boost bilateral trade by 20 percent, want to formally sign the deal this year and ratify it next year.

Freeland and EU Trade Commissioner Cecelia Malmstrom said on Wednesday that if CETA failed, it would wreck the bloc’s hopes for a free trade deal with the United States.

“(The Europeans) understand this is a big test for Europe and Europe’s ability to act and have agreements with international partners ... it means our European partners are really committed to working hard to get this done,” Freeland said on Thursday.

Opponents say CETA hands too much power to multinationals and describe it as a threat to democracy.

To address such criticisms, the two sides announced in February 2016 that they had diluted provisions designed to protect foreign companies from state interference.

Freeland, speaking at the end of a short trip to Brussels and Paris, met a number of senior EU politicians and made clear she would be returning for more talks on CETA.

“This is my priority for this year and I’m going to be doing a lot of work in Europe and with Europeans,” she said.

Freeland said she had met representatives from EU trade unions to try to persuade them that CETA was in their interests because it contained labor and environmental protections.

CETA opponents in Canada include dairy farmers, who say increased foreign imports of milk products will threaten their livelihoods. As Freeland spoke, dozen of farmers converged on Parliament Hill in Ottawa with cows and tractors for a demonstration.

The federal Liberal government has already promised compensation for farmers affected by CETA.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Alan Crosby