BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union’s parliament is set to approve a landmark trade deal with Canada, with the bloc’s executive extolling the pact as a sign of international cooperation at a time when many political forces, including U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, are trying to halt globalization.
Hundreds of protesters were outside the EU parliament building in Strasbourg, France, arguing Tuesday that instead of growth and jobs, such a deal will erode the bloc’s environmental, labor and consumer standards.
EU trade chief Cecilia Malmstrom tried to assuage concerns that the deal uniting the markets of 500 million Europeans with 35 million Canadians would cut into the independence of EU decision-making. She said it “will not change food safety standards or any other EU requirements, only the EU institutions can do that.”
The vote for a major trade agreement comes at a time when populist parties in Europe and Trump in the U.S. have been looking increasingly inwards, thwarting a trade deal with Pacific countries and floating the idea of tariffs on imports.
“With President Trump in the White House we see a clear change in U.S. policy,” said liberal ALDE legislator Marietje Schaake. “Leadership for open economies and societies must come from us in Europe.”
“We cannot imagine a better partner than Canada, the most European country outside the union,” she said.
Three of the four major groups in parliament are backing the deal — the EPP Christian Democrats, the ECR Conservatives and the ALDE liberals.
Confident the deal would pass, Canadian International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne was already in Strasbourg and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to address the legislature on Thursday.
Trade between the EU and Canada amounts to more than 60 billion euros ($63 billion) a year, and the EU expects the so-called CETA deal to boost this by 20 percent by removing almost all tariffs.
Outside the legislature, the concerns were palpable among demonstrators.
“What will happen is more and more deregulation, less social protection for citizens, for small companies, for independent workers,” said Maika Fernandes, who had traveled from Alicante, southern Spain. “No one will be able to compete with the multinationals. It will be a financial Europe that will favor only big multinationals.”