Op-Eds Feb 01, 2021

Canada deal an EU success story and hostility to it is misguided


By: Perrin Beatty, President & CEO, Canadian Chamber of Commerce
Danny McCoy, CEO, Ipec

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Ibec represent a combined 200,000 businesses employing more than ten million people in both Canada and Ireland and the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (Ceta) between the two countries represents a significant opportunity for both. The political backdrop challenging its ratification in Ireland is misguided on a number of fronts.

For decades, we have seen a significant deepening of the trans-Atlantic economic and trade relationship between Ireland, the EU and Canada. Such links have played a central role in propelling Ireland from an economic laggard to one of the most resilient and dynamic economies in the world.

In 2019, Irish companies exported approximately €3.8 billion worth of goods and services to Canada, with more than €1 billion imported to Irish shores. Indeed, Canada has emerged in recent years as a significant FDI influence in Ireland, with almost 7,000 workers employed by Canadian firms here.

Such ties are operating against a backdrop of an increasingly challenging trade policy environment, not only due to Covid-19, but also from decisions in recent years of some of our key trading partners, such as the US and Britain, which were fuelled by profound political change in their domestic landscapes.

Canada and Ireland are dynamic, open economies and continued ease of access to global markets is critical for the success of our respective business models. At a challenging juncture when protectionist rhetoric intensifies and the global economy endures continued Covid-induced disruption, enhanced trading links between Canada and the EU represents a strategic opportunity to secure lasting economic benefits on both sides of the Atlantic.

If the ratification of Ceta by the Irish government is further delayed, a signal sent to our trading partners is that the EU is becoming inward looking and adopting restrictive trade positions. At such a time of profound economic change and upheaval, the Irish government simply cannot afford to score a destructive own goal here. Ireland must play its role in strongly championing the free trade agreements that can catalyse our economic recovery, helping restore jobs and livelihoods fractured by the fallout from Covid-19 and Brexit.

In recent years, trade relations in the global economy have resulted in a series of escalating tariffs on goods crossing the Atlantic. There are real hopes for an improvement in EU and Canadian relations with the US following the election of Joe Biden as US president. The Biden campaign’s platform and political history suggests greater support for multilateralism, less focus on bilateral trade balances as a measure of economic relations, and general support for improving trade relations with allies.

It is not a one-way street, however, with large parts of the “America First” strategy now embedded within US political rhetoric. The change in trade policy under the new administration, at least initially, might best be described as a change in tone and approach rather than a change in focus.

On the opposite side of the Atlantic, we have seen in recent weeks the first roots of the challenges posed to trade and for businesses following Britain’s formal exit from the single market and customs union. Brexit was always going to be an exercise in damage limitation.

In an increasingly competitive and uncertain environment, where increasingly protectionist trade policies creep into some of our international partners’ policy platforms, our economic fortunes rely on an outward-looking, dynamic and successful EU. Ceta represents an opportunity to exercise these principles in earnest.

Ceta provides benefits for businesses of all sizes, small as well as large companies. For example, customs and trade facilitation provisions such as access to advance rulings on the origin or tariff classification of products makes it easier for Irish business to export to the Canadian market.

The EU is setting new intellectual property rights standards with Canada, both for innovative industries, like pharmaceuticals through extended patent protections, and for traditional industries like the food and drink sector, enhancing protection for geographical indications for products such as Irish whiskey.

Ceta is a progressive agreement responding to the challenges and concerns of the 21st century. It reaffirms governments’ right to regulate and make their own public policy choices in key areas of public services. It also promotes social and environmental standards and reinforces the Paris Agreement, the legally binding international treat on climate change.

Ceta marks an important success of the EU’s trade policy, which can deliver lasting economic benefits on both sides of the Atlantic. Ireland simply cannot afford to be a member state that torpedoes this trade agreement for the whole of the membership. Our joint business communities can see the benefits of its ratification for both societies and now is a pivotal moment to underpin multilateralism which is in our joint interests.

Originally published 31 Jan, 2021 in Business Post.