Canadians are used to playing second fiddle to their bigger, louder neighbours to the south. When it comes to visibility or influence in global politics, Canada is dwarfed by the imposing presence of Uncle Sam across the border.
This time was supposed to be different, though. Canada got off to a head start in trade deal talks with the EU, over four years ago now. A similar deal with the US wasn’t even in the pipeline.
Everyone was aware that a ‘comprehensive economic and trade agreement’ (CETA) with Europe was likely going to be used by the EU as a blueprint for a similar deal with the Americans. Canadians were fine with that – they would be negotiating the terms of the pact.
The Europeans could then take the finished agreement and use it as a basis in negotiating a similar deal with the Americans, since the two markets are so similar. But Canada would be the first to the finish line, for once. This would be a deal negotiated by Canadians, for Canadians, with the Americans later jumping ship.
Fast forward four years to the present day and the CETA negotiations are stalled, predominantly over an impasse on agriculture – and the second round of negotiations between the EU and US will soon take place.
With each passing week and month, it becomes increasingly possible that the steam being gathered by the EU-US talks will push CETA onto the backburner, even though it is seemingly tantalisingly close to being concluded.
People close to the negotiations keep claiming that the agreement needs final touches – mainly counter-balancing Europe’s need to win greater access for dairy producers with Canada’s demand that the EU opens the gate to Canadian beef and pork exports. Negotiations are supposedly all but done, with some t’s needing to be crossed and i’s dotted.
It leads one to wonder if there aren’t some deeper, more unsolvable issues that are holding things back. Is the EU losing interest in the Canadian deal? Is it merely a warm up for the bigger event – talks with the US?
The inevitable seems to be happening again: the EU’s top negotiators are likely to divert their attention to an American market that is ten times the size of Canada’s, with the Canadians potentially forced to make concessions based on what is happening in talks with the US.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s reputation and possible re-election are on the line. CETA was his brain-child and an agreement which he has been championing as key to Canada’s competitiveness going forward.
If he fails to put the stamp on an agreement, which he had been hoping to do while in Europe for the G8 meeting last June, it will likely mark the end of his tenure as the country’s leader.
Canadians are aware of the precarious position on which talks currently stand, and don’t want to see all the time and taxpayers money already invested in negotiations go to waste, only to see the Americans reap the rewards of four years of work.
According to former Quebec premier Jean Charest, who was instrumental in getting Canada-EU talks off the ground, a “danger point” has been reached in the negotiations.
“[The US-EU talks are] a danger because the real politics of this is now the Americans are in our room. It’s very simple to understand, every time a decision pops up, the Europeans will say, ‘You know what, we’ll have to address this with the Americans, we can’t do this with you, because if we do it with you, we have to do it with them,’ and that’s the danger,” Canada’s primary news outlet CBC quoted Charest as saying.
“When you have a partner ten times bigger than you are, securing their attention for a long period of time is a risk, and the sooner you get it done, the better, and the more chances of succeeding. At this point, it does require the highest level of attention to land the deal, to make it happen,” he said.
Canadians are worried that with the Americans now in the picture, even the attention of an entire nation may not get the deal over the finish line without big brother’s approval.