Belgium ambassador talks up Canada-EU trade deal to local businesses

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Windsor Star/Grace Macaluso

Windsor and Essex County’s automotive and agri-business sectors are among Canadian sectors poised to benefit once the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement goes into effect, likely, next year, Raoul Delcorde, Belgium’s ambassador to Canada, said Thursday.

“CETA offers Canadian businesses access to the world’s largest market,” Delcorde told a business gathering organized by the WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation. “Canada would be the only G8 country with preferential access to two of the largest free markets in the world — the U.S. (under NAFTA) and the EU, so that’s huge.”

Negotiated by the former federal Conservative government, CETA removes 98 per cent of tariffs on trade between the Canada and the EU. It will provide Canada access to the world’s largest market with more than 500 million people in 28 countries, with a combined gross domestic product of $20 trillion.

Iconic Canadian brands, such as McCain Foods and Hudson’s Bay, already have footholds in his country, Delcorde said, adding that McCain’s French fries, are “very popular” in Belgium. As well, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan owns 39 per cent of the Brussels Airport — a stake acquired in 2011. “Obviously there is a growing interest from Ontario in developing business with Belgium, and CETA will hopefully contribute to bringing the private sectors in both countries closer.”

Windsor and Essex County’s spirits and wines — particularly ice wines, he added, “would find their way onto the menus of the best restaurants in Europe.”

Delcorde said like Canada, the auto sector is a key industry in Europe, employing more than 12 million people.

“CETA will open up the markets of Europe to your car and parts exports. I think this is good news for Windsor,” he said. “Europe would like to capture a greater share of the Canadian market, maybe in the field of luxury cars.”

However, critics, such as Unifor, have countered that Canada already has a $5.3-billion auto trade deficit with Europe, which sells $5.6 billion worth of cars into this country, while Canada exports only $269 million.

“That’s because the cars Europe makes are attractive to Canadians – luxury brands such as BMW, Mercedes and Audi — while Canada makes great vehicles that are not geared to the European market,” according to Unifor national president Jerry Dias.

Delcorde said the development of “future vehicles” may open up new markets for Canadian auto exports. “The type of vehicle you will produce in the future might find an interesting market in the EU.”

Rakesh Naidu, interim CEO of the economic development corporation, said CETA provides “huge” opportunities for the region’s 700-plus firms in the auto supply chain. “It’s not just vehicles that can be exported … there can be more opportunities to supply parts to Europe.”

Although the hope is that the agreement will take effect shortly after the EU-Canada Summit in Brussels in October, there are potential hurdles that could delay implementation, cautioned Delcorde.

While the EU has the power to negotiate and conclude international agreements, each member state must ratify the treaties, said Delcorde. “This is a big issue.” But Delcorde remained confident that “at least 90 per cent of the treaty” would be implemented next year.

“The remaining 10 per cent would have to wait until the ratification process is done.”