EDMONTON — Several high-profile Canadian business and agriculture groups say the signing of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the European Union will reap big rewards.
But several say there are still hurdles ahead.
Canadian Federation of Independent Business president Dan Kelly says the deal, which was signed Sunday in Belgium, is an opportunity to gain preferential access to the largest market in the world.
But questions over the resolution of outstanding technical barriers caused the Canadian Meat Council to be cautious in its praise for the deal.
Spokesman Ron Davidson says one major barrier involves the Canadian use of anti-microbials like citric acid on beef.
In Canada and the U.S., he says anti-microbials are used to ensure the product is safe for consumers. But in Europe, he said fewer anti-microbials are used.
"We have a philosophy in North America that the meat industry should do the maximum possible to reduce any potential likelihood of there being pathogens in the meat — bacteria. Whereas in Europe, the philosophy is more that the consumers have to take some responsibility for cooking the meat properly," Davidson said in an interview Sunday.
"So, it sets up two different systems."
Still, the council said CETA offers the possibility of a significant increase in Canadian meat product exports to Europe.
The Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance and the Canadian Cattlemen's Association also noted that the technical barriers would need to be resolved.
Still, trade alliance president Brian Innes called the agreement a "bright light" for agri-food exporters. His group said that when the deal is fully implemented, it will eliminate EU tariffs on almost 94 per cent of Canada's agri-food products.
"We believe free trade deals like CETA are required for Canada's export oriented agri-food sector to thrive," Innes said in a news release Sunday.
"CETA provides the framework to access one of the world's few multibillion-dollar export markets, and importantly, it does so ahead of our major competitors."
The deal must be ratified by the EU's 28 countries and several more smaller regional governments such as Wallonia, a region of Belgium whose concerns over the pact's investor-state dispute settlement mechanism nearly killed the agreement last week.
The cattlemen's association praised the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, acknowledging the difficulty in navigating what it called "an uncharted and complicated path through European Union politics."
The association said the new trade access could mean the European Union could go from being a $6 to $10 million-dollar market for Canadian beef to a market worth $600 million a year.
The CFIB said the EU is the second-largest market for Canadian small to mid-sized businesses, and it said its surveys show small firms see trade with Europe as an important buffer against relying exclusively on trade with the US.
"A number of small businesses already trade with Europe, and welcome the opportunity to increase their trade and open up new trading avenues for their Canadian goods and services," CFIB president Dan Kelly said in a news release.
Rob Drinkwater, The Canadian Press