Harper’s political win with CETA

After five years of difficult negotiations, with recent threats of environmental lawsuits and rejection by Germany, Canada and the EU have at long last finalised their free trade deal (CETA). Though the Canadian press seemed cautious in celebrating this breakthrough – there are references to hanging clouds of uncertainty and last autumn’s ‘agreement in principle’ between European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and PM Stephen Harper has not been forgotten – it seems that this time, there may be reason to celebrate.

It will likely take another two years to come fully into effect, by the time it is translated into 23 languages, reviewed by lawyers and ratified by the European Parliament and Commission. Nonetheless, it marks a historic moment. Canada will now be the only country in the world with prime trading access to the world’s two largest economies – the US and the EU.

While CETA might remain a political issue for Germany, who is still fighting to strengthen investor protection provisions in the American free trade negotiations (TTIP), the success of the long-awaited deal will do political favours for Harper and the Conservatives in Canada.

With federal elections next October, the CETA success will likely take centre stage in the Conservatives’ election campaign, playing to an image of Stephen Harper as competent manager of the economy. Early next month, Harper and Trade Minister Ed Fast will be on a trade mission in the UK, and will reverse roles to play host to a major Canada-EU trade summit in Ottawa to mark the formal end of negotiations with Barroso in late September.

In the context of falling employment levels and the weakest job creation numbers since 2001, it is likely that Tories will tout CETA as a business-boosting deal with the EU’s 500 million consumers. As quoted in a Maclean’s article, “The CETA supports the narrative that he and the Conservatives are focused on creating jobs and economic opportunities for Canadian businesses, while the opposition leaders are risky, albeit for different reasons,” said pollster David Coletto, chief executive of the Ottawa firm Abacus Data.

Though none of the other party leaders are against CETA and public opinion is largely in favour, the agreement will not be in place early enough for there to be any employment-enhancing growth before October 2015. Despite this fact, Harper has already invested so much political capital in making this deal happen that he will naturally want to reap the political rewards. He and the Tories must be hoping that this autumn’s agreement is the real deal. The Liberals and the New Democratic Party will have a tough time ahead of them, as recent elections in Quebec and Ontario have shown; for Canadians, it’s all about the economy right now.

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