The EU-Canada free trade agreement (CETA) was seen by many as a blueprint for the bloc’s post-Brexit trading relationship with the UK but Dutch MPs are expected to throw it out when they vote on whether to ratify the accord later today. Such a move would spark yet another political crisis in Brussels with the model for Brexit trade talks in tatters just as the EU’s beleaguered bosses are bracing themselves for some brutal negotiations with the British counterparts.
You will inflict enormous damage on the Netherlands and the EU
CETA was approved in 2016 and came into provisional force in 2017 and a Dutch green light for EU free trade agreements would normally be taken for granted.
But the Netherlands’ main opposition parties — from both left and right — are against the deal.
And prime minister Mark Rutte faces an uphill struggle to get majority for the agreement among his own four-party coalition government.
The Dutch would be the first EU country to reject CETA and could be responsible for killing it off.
And even if it scrapes through today the Netherlands’ upper house is almost certain to block it later this month.
The prospect of failure has thrown Brussels into panic with the EU’s Irish Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan insisting protection for agriculture and the right of governments to regulate were watertight.
In a letter sent to Dutch Trade Minister Sigrid Kaag he said: “While implementation of EU border controls falls within the competence of the member states, I am fully convinced that all countries including the Netherlands, will efficiently enforce compliance of this legislation at its borders.”
Ms Kaag warned Dutch MPs thinking of rejecting the Canada deal would trigger an EU crisis as well as destroying the model for Brexit trade talks.
She told them: “You will inflict enormous damage on the Netherlands and the EU.
“We will not be able to commit ourselves as a country to a good, balanced treaty with a country like Canada that has the same standards and values as we do.
“It gives a totally wrong political signal, especially in this time.
“Right now we are negotiating with the UK on a trade agreement after Brexit.”
Observers say CETA has essentially fallen victim to political infighting and Dutch domestic tensions.
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The centre-left Labour party (PvdA) helped negotiate CETA while in government but has now turned its back on the deal and pledged to vote against it.
PvdA leader Lodewijk Asscher said CETA did not offer protection for labour and environmental standards and warned its dispute mechanism gave big business the upper hand over elected governments.
Dutch farmers have also turned against the deal amid fears hormone-pumped Canadian beef will flood their market.
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