Austria will ‘trigger conflict’ with EU over Canada trade deal

An activists from the anti-globalisation organisation ATTAC at the protest against planned trade pact CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) with Canada, in Berlin © Hannibal Hanschke
Europe's free trade deal with Canada may lead to a confrontation between Austria and fellow EU members due to similar problems the bloc is currently negotiating with the US, according to Chancellor Christian Kern.

“This will be difficult; this will be the next conflict in the EU that Austria will trigger... We must focus on making sure... we don't shift the power balance in favor of global enterprises,” the chancellor said on Wednesday, as quoted by Reuters.

The deal with Canada, called the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), contains many of the same issues preventing the EU from signing a similar deal with the US.

“We will have to see where the weaknesses of CETA are. Many are the same as with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP),” Kern added.

Austria does not support the EU joining TTIP, which is officially committed to be sealed by Washington and Brussels before President Obama leaves office in January.

“One should stop the negotiations now and start the entire process afresh,” said Austria’s Economy Minister Reinhold Mitterlehner.

The Austrian authorities worry that TTIP may potentially compromise food safety standards and threaten European businesses. The agreement could allow companies to challenge government policy if they feel regulations put them at a disadvantage.

The biggest economies of the eurozone, Germany and France, expressed the same concerns over the deal.

German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel said the US deal negotiations were ‘de facto dead’, despite Chancellor Angela Merkel's support.

Meanwhile, French Trade Minister Matthias Fekl promised to request a halt to the TTIP talks at an EU trade ministers' meeting next month.

The European Parliament will vote on allowing the trade deal with Canada to come into force next year after it is ratified by national and some regional parliaments.

Belgium, Romania and Bulgaria said they can’t sign the deal in its present form, while Greece and Poland want details of the agreement to be modified.

The leaders of EU countries are scheduled to meet on October 20 to give the deal with Canada final approval.