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CETA gives us a chance to set standards. We should take it!

Article by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Frankfurter Rundschau (09.09.2016).

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Events have taken some dramatic turns in the past months: the AfD has scored strongly in the elections in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, the UK electorate has voted to leave the EU, and Donald Trump has been nominated as the Republican candidate for the US Presidency. Caught between incredulity and alarm, we are left asking ourselves, “How could this happen?” The answer is, of course, different in each case. But these developments all have one thing in common. More and more people are feeling overwhelmed by an increasingly convoluted state of affairs and cannot find their place in a complex and interconnected world. This is not an excuse, but it does help us understand why they turn to populists who tempt them with misleadingly simple solutions along the lines of: “Let’s put up walls!”

But simple answers don’t make the world less complicated. In reality, the simplest answers are not, as a rule, viable ones. On the contrary! Politically, they lead to nationalism and xenophobia. Economically, they lead to protectionism. Both these paths are equally erroneous – especially for our country, which is interwoven into the tapestry of world trade, international politics and global society like almost no other nation. It is irresponsible to choose these paths. We have to take the more promising, if perhaps stonier, path of defending freedom and openness, and to that end constantly renegotiating our design for living with one another and shaping globalisation fairly and sustainably.

This issue is also relevant when it comes to CETA. A heated and at times ideological debate is currently raging about the need for and purpose of free trade. Here, too, we are confronted with the yearning for protective walls, when openness is perceived by people as a threat to their own jobs or when European regulations are viewed as inherently superior. It may seem surprising that this debate is raging so fiercely in Germany, when you consider the state of our economy. One of the reasons our economy is so successful is precisely because we have a booming export sector. International cooperation, economic connectivity and open markets have brought us great prosperity. Furthermore, demographic trends indicate that our economic dependency on exports is likely to increase. There is a reason why not only businesses and business associations, but also the major industrial unions and the Social Democrats support the idea of free trade.

We should therefore seize every opportunity we have to develop free trade in the direction we want and shape it in accordance with our values. CETA is one such opportunity. It is probably the best and most progressive trade agreement the EU has ever negotiated. It is thanks to Sigmar Gabriel and the Social Democrats in Europe that negotiations were re-opened on an agreement that had been done and dusted when he took office, and key improvements made. He convinced the European Commission, the other member states and the Canadian Government of the need for a modern and transparent investment protection mechanism. The agreement is the first to include provisions on a public-law investment tribunal which would replace the old Investor to State Dispute Settlement approach contained in trade agreements between EU member states and Canada. Canada and the EU have also agreed to work towards setting up a permanent multilateral investment court. This will be a benchmark by which all other trade agreements will be judged. 

CETA is intended to promote growth, trade and investment, and to create and sustain jobs. At the same time, it seeks to guard against uncontrolled deregulation in fields such as culture and public services of general interest. The preamble also clearly underscores the importance of labour and environmental protection, sustainable development and social standards. The sovereign prerogatives of the national parliaments remain unaffected; explicit mention is made of their right to regulate. Even if the debate continues on detailed improvements, these factors alone make CETA an internationally exemplary free trade agreement, which even today sets standards for trade policy tomorrow.

If we succeed with CETA, we will not only gain the chance to set the framework conditions for fair trade with a country that has more in common with us than most others. It will also be of great significance for the future of European trade policy. We are seizing a chance to actively help shape globalisation with a view to creating a world in which fair and universal rules prevail. In this we are not only making our economy more successful, but are above all strengthening our credibility with those who expect us to take responsible, far-sighted and rational decisions.

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