Education International
Education International

EU and Canada launch trade talks

published 23 June 2009 updated 23 June 2009

The European Union and Canada have agreed on the main areas to be negotiated in a possible comprehensive economic agreement.

The agreement, reached May 5, states that the negotiations should have a high level of ambition and cover trade in services, investment, technical barriers to trade, movement of natural persons, and regulatory cooperation.

“This agreement puts us in a position to launch comprehensive negotiations as early as possible,” Canadian trade minister Stockwell Day said in a statement. “The EU is our second-largest trading partner, and the Canada-EU relationship holds great potential.”

EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton stated that formal launch of negotiations sends “a powerful signal…at a time when protectionist sentiment is on the rise.”

However, EI’s consultant on international trade, David Robinson ,says the negotiations are not primarily aimed at reducing tariffs --- which are already less than 3 per cent in the most traded sectors.

“When we speak about an economic partnership agreement between the EU and Canada, we’re not talking about a traditional free trade agreement where the focus is on cutting tariffs for trade in goods and services,” he explains. “What we’re really talking about is a second generation trade agreement where the aim is to harmonize or weaken regulatory measures that might affect trade, such as standards, qualification requirements and licensing procedures.”

Robinson argues that the focus on non-tariff measures in the negotiations could have an impact on the education sector.

For example, EU member states and each Canadian province have different requirements for recognizing skills, professional qualifications, and licences to practice. As well, there are different approaches to accrediting educational institutions.

“These divergent regulations may well be justified based upon different educational standards appropriate to each jurisdiction. But under a comprehensive economic partnership they would be seen simply as barriers to the mobility of labour and restrictions on trade in services,” says Robinson.

Monique Fouilhoux, EI’s Deputy General Secretary, said it will be important for European and Canadian affiliates to monitor the negotiations closely and called on unions in Europe to participate in the formal consultations on the proposed agreement to highlight concerns. She also noted that affiliates in Sweden have agreed to work with EI to follow closely developments in the negotiations as that country takes over the EU presidency.

“Because of the potential impact of these talks on the education sector, EI will be coordinating with our affiliates to share information and to plan joint strategy and lobbying the European Commission,” Fouilhoux added.