Canadians like to think we are an example of how a country should be: peaceful, prosperous, democratic, clean and mainly green. We state proudly that the world needs more Canada, especially when compared to nations like Zimbabwe, Syria, Nigeria and other failed states facing tyranny, war, famine and disease.
And if anyone demonstrated against Canada, we would expect it to be the Islamic State or some other extreme, fundamentalist group that sees the devil in all things modern and western. It certainly wouldn’t be Germany, the stalwart, stable, industrious hub of our friends and allies in Western Europe.
Yet in the last several months, there have been major demonstrations and threats of demonstrations against Canada in Germany. The anti-Canada sentiment has been triggered by the proposed Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which would allow for freer (and thus more) trade between Canada and Europe.
Trade is good. It provides what every business and every country needs to prosper – customers. Canada would benefit strongly from CETA, especially now that election talk in the United States – by far our biggest customer – is all about reducing access to that market. CETA would allow us to sell more of our resources, services and goods in Europe. It would also provide easier and cheaper access to the goods and services that Europe (including Germany) produces.
Most political and economic leaders in Germany and the rest of Europe recognize CETA’s economic benefits and support the agreement. Britain is strongly in favour.
It was feared that Brexit would set CETA back, but European leaders in Brussels have expressed the desire to see the deal proceed.
But a collection of labour organizations, environmentalists and other groups oppose CETA. They tend to ignore the economic benefits and concentrate on other factors.
One factor is their preference for food that hasn’t been genetically modified (GMO). The sale of GMO food is prohibited in much of Europe, but a significant amount of the food produced in North America is genetically modified. We have been eating it for decades. And extensive studies show no differences between the health of North Americans who eat GMO food and Europeans who don’t because it’s banned.
The only difference is that non-GMO food tends to be more expensive. Freer trade with North America might result in the importation of GMO food. Apparently, some people think that European consumers shouldn’t have the option of choosing less expensive food.
Those who oppose CETA also fear it could be a stepping stone to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a comprehensive package between Europe and the United States. TTIP is at a much earlier stage of development than CETA and so more at risk. There is fear that TTIP will allow political meddling by the U.S. in Europe that could undermine the continent’s autonomy. Critics are especially fearful of allowing American access to European electronic communications.
Some of these concerns may be justified. However, it’s important not to throw out the baby with the bath water.
Europe desperately needs the economic advantages of freer trade that CETA and TTIP would provide. European economic growth has hovered below two percent for decades and the unemployment rate in the continent is typically close to 10 percent (it’s better in Germany and much worse in the south).
So it would be unwise for labour leaders and others to abandon the economic benefits of the two trade deals. However, their protests could give them the leverage to negotiate strongly for changes to clauses that concern them.
Demonstrators seem motivated more by politics than economics. Frank Bsirske is head of Verdi, a nature conservation group actively opposed to CETA and TTIP. “This is not North Korea,” he says.
He’s right. North Korea is certainly not free, and it is one of the poorest countries in the world. A major factor in that poverty is that trade is almost totally restricted.
Opposing trade may just bring Europe a little closer to North Korea than the German protestors might like.
Troy Media columnist Roslyn Kunin is a consulting economist and speaker.