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European Union and Canada: Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement

Volume 776: debated on Thursday 27 October 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the current state of negotiations of the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement between the European Union and Canada; and what lessons they have drawn from these negotiations.

The UK remains fully supportive of CETA and of the EU’s wider trade agenda. We have been working closely with the Commission and other member states to enable signature of this agreement to take place, and negotiations are continuing in Brussels today. As noted by the Prime Minister, we are not looking to replicate a model that another country has; we want to ensure that we have the right deal for the United Kingdom.

I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. I wonder whether she recognises these words: Brexit,

“means immediately seeking Free Trade Agreements with the biggest prospective markets as fast as possible. There is no reason why many of these cannot be achieved within two years. We can pick up the almost complete agreement between the EU and Canada, and if anything liberalise it”.

In case she does not remember them, they were written on the website of Conservative Home by the current Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Mr David Davis. Do the Government still believe that their bespoke deal can be delivered in two years? What bilateral talks are they having with other EU member states to prevent the UK deal being a “mixed” agreement, needing ratification in over 30 assemblies and parliaments?

I thank the noble Baroness for that. I think that there were several questions there and I shall attempt to answer at least one of them. The UK is unique and the deal that we negotiate will be bespoke. The relationships that Canada and the UK have with the EU are very different. We are an EU member state, whereas Canada is not. The UK is an important market for the European Union and therefore an ongoing trading relationship is in the EU’s interests.

My Lords, is my noble friend not rather tired of these Moaning Minnies? Today we learned that the economy has grown by 0.5% and has not gone into recession. We also learned that Nissan is going to build its cars in the north-east. Should we not take a positive view looking forward, and is not the lesson of the disintegration of the Canada deal that it is extremely difficult to negotiate with and involve 28 countries and 28 interests? In the future, we will be able to decide for ourselves.

My Lords, will the Minister not accept that CETA was cooked up all too secretively between officials and corporate lobbyists; that it is no less objectionable than TTIP; that giving power to corporations to sue Governments in an international tribunal when they think that their anticipated profits might be jeopardised by new laws is not compatible with our parliamentary and judicial traditions; that this House ought to record its gratitude to the stout Walloons for blocking it; and that we should be extremely wary of the General Agreement on the Trade in Services, which is the next one looming?

In terms of scrutiny, we are not going against procedures; we followed the usual procedure and responded in detail to the concerns raised by the scrutiny committees in both Houses. There will be debates, such as this afternoon’s debate on global free trade, votes on the great repeal Bill and, very likely, votes on any new arrangements and consequential legislation. We want to offer maximum transparency and scrutiny as long as we do not compromise our negotiating strategy.

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that what we have seen in the negotiations between the European Union and the Canadian Government is an example of totally dysfunctional, incompetent and blundering government in Brussels? There is no democratic way in which that can be altered. Does that not make a very strong case for getting out from that shambles as fast as we can?

We regret that agreement has not been possible by all member states at this stage. The UK hopes that agreement is reached swiftly in order for it to be signed. However, the UK continues to support the EU’s trade agenda, including CETA. It is an important trade agreement for the UK, with an economic benefit to UK business while we remain in the EU estimated at £1.3 billion.

My Lords, is not the point shown by the Canadian negotiations that seven years of work have been scuppered by a sub-state institution inside Europe? Do the Government recognise the difficulties of the path on which they have embarked, for there are sub-state entities in the United Kingdom, such as the Scottish Parliament, and in every other state in Europe? Can the Minister therefore assure us that in this complex, huge, interlocked series of negotiations there are no issues which require other than qualified majority voting? In other words, is every single aspect of this negotiation free from the prospect of a unanimous decision being scuppered by a sub-state institution, here or in Europe?

We want the best deal for the whole of the United Kingdom. The UK is a unique case. We want to negotiate something bespoke, but that is not to say that we are not looking at every single region of the United Kingdom to see what is best for it.