IN THE MEDIA ~ Free-trade deal with EU may hinge on how Canada handles oilsands and sealing issues


Europe seeks conditions on trade
Free-trade deal with EU may hinge on how Canada handles oilsands and sealing issues

Peter O'Neil, Postmedia News

Sealing and oilsands, two issues that have darkened Canada's image in some sectors of European society, could affect ratification of the proposed Canada-European Union free trade agreement, suggests a report from the House of Commons parliamentary committee on trade.

The report, based on a fact-finding mission to Europe in November, recommends that the Canadian government and parliament step up efforts to lobby the 736-seat legislature that now has veto power over EU trade agreements.

The MPs heard complaints on matters that had nothing to do with the proposed Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, such as Canada's seal hunt and the imposition of visa requirements on citizens visiting Canada from a small number of EU countries.

Canada is hoping to announce later this year an agreement-in-principle that would slash tariff and non-tariff barriers that affect trade and investment.

Some members of the European parliament who met with the Canadian committee in Strasbourg "expressed the hope that the CETA would encourage responsible extraction and use of these raw materials, and said that both parties should be required to guarantee a high level of environmental protection," the report noted.

"Other European parliamentarians said they are confident that Canada will do just that, considering the evolution in extraction methods, which are today more efficient and more respectful of the environment than in the past."

A separate opinion by New Democrat (NDP International Trade Critic) MP Peter Julian said European parliamentarians feared that CETA would lead to increased oilsands production and would therefore "worsen its devastating impact on the environment."

First it was clear-cut logging and animal trapping, then it was the seal hunt before the European Parliament banned seal product imports in 2009, and now it's Alberta's so-called "dirty" oilsands sector, he said.

Conservative MP Gerald Keddy, parliamentary secretary to Canadian Trade Minister Peter Van Loan and a member of the committee that visited Europe, said he doesn't share the view of other MPs who fear environmental or animal rights issues could interfere with ratification.

But he said Ottawa has to put greater effort into lobbying the European members.

"We can't ignore them," Keddy told Postmedia. "We have to understand and recognize that there are important differences between the EU and Canada, but that doesn't mean we can't sign a complementary agreement that benefits both countries."

ILLUS: Colour Photo: Julian