World Bulletin / News Desk
The European Parliament has approved on Wednesday the Canada-EU free trade deal.
By 408 votes to 254 with 33 abstentions, MEPs voted to ratify the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). It could already provisionally apply starting April.
The agreement -- which came through after seven years of negotiations -- was formally signed in October 2016 following last-minute opposition from the Belgian region of Wallonia.
The deal was put in jeopardy after the Wallonian region refused to agree to the terms, worried that cheaper goods from Canada would hurt the farming and labor sectors, as well as lessen environmental and consumer standards.
For all parts of the deal to come into effect, it has to be approved by national and regional parliaments, as well as MEPs.
During Wednesday’s debate, EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom told MEPs the deal would strengthen both the EU's economic links and "geopolitical alliance" with Canada.
Malmstrom said CETA would save European exporters millions of euros in tariff fees, and would allow both partners to set rules that will "shape globalization".
French National Front leader and presidential candidate Marine Le Pen claimed the "terrible" agreement will undermine thousands of jobs in Europe and eliminate the rights of governments to legislate.
Leader of the center-right EPP group, German Christian Democrat MEP Manfred Weber, praised the deal. "We don't want to build walls, we want to build bridges", he said.
The deal cuts tariffs on 99 percent of trade goods, allows EU firms to bid for public contracts in Canada and opens up Canadian services market to EU companies.
In 2015, EU-Canada trade accounted for more than €60 billion ($63.4 billion) and CETA is expected to boost this by 20 percent, according to the EP website.
Office workers, farmers and radio hosts are taking on new nationalities, relocating their businesses or looking forward to lucrative alternative trade deals, as politicians struggle to come up with a plan.
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