Montréal, Quebec to host opening round of Canada-EU FTA Negotiations
13 May 2009
This morning, I received a report on recent developments in the Canada-EU free trade negotiations from Hill & Knowlton’s office in Brussels.
According to our sources, the inaugural round will take place in Montreal, Quebec on June 9th and 10th of this year. This first round will establish the rules of engagement; the frequency of negotiations, and the parties involved. Canada’s biggest challenge out of the starting block is managing participation by the provinces without losing control of the negotiations. The provinces are not generally involved in state-to-state negotiations. The EU however made negotiating access to provincial government procurement contracts a pre-condition, and as a result, the federal government will somehow need to bring the provinces into the negotiating room. But Newfoundland’s refusal to sign the Council of the Federation statement endorsing negotiations nearly derailed the entire process, and this was before the EU even banned seal imports. Imagine Newfoundland’s future position on a Canada-EU FTA.
As for the EU, they may have an even bigger challenge of balancing the various interests of all 27 member states, especially Germany and France. Agricultural issues including dairy, cereals and beef-hormones could test the negotiating waters early. This may be why Steve Verheul was picked as Canada’s top negotiator. Verheul was Canada’s former chief agriculture negotiator prior to his recent appointment effective April 1, 2009.
Other early challenges and potential deal-breakers could include geographic indicators or GIs. According to the EU, GIs are names given to certify that a product has certain qualities, or enjoys a certain reputation, due to its geographical origin. For instance, true champagne can only be produced in the Champagne region of France and if it is produced anywhere else, it must be referred to as sparkling wine. And while a 2004 sectoral agreement temporarily resolved GIs on Wine and Spirits, EU companies will want to extend GIs to food products. For example, ‘cheddar’ cheese should be reserved only for products made in the English village of Cheddar, in Somerset. Hundreds of these examples will surface including Parmigiano-Reggiano, Bologna, Swiss, etc.
Finally, it appears using the term ‘Free Trade Agreement’ conjures mistrust and the process could look to rebrand the negotiations. Maybe a PR campaign is already afoot? Or has protectionism reached new lows?
We’ll have two to three years to find out.
Below is a deck Hill & Knowlton produced prior to the launch of the negotiations.