Nov 1, 2016 by


From left, Donald Tusk, president of the E.U. Council; Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada; and Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission. Credit Stephanie Lecocq/European Pressphoto Agency

The new trade agreement between Canada and the European Union, negotiated over seven years, was finally signed on Sunday after 11th-hour concessions to a rebellious Belgian region that had threatened to kill the entire deal. The question now is whether the agreement spells hope for far larger trade deals in the works — notably American deals with Europe and with Asia.

The rescue of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, the formal name of the Canada-E.U. accord, was greeted with relief by leaders of Canada and the bloc at their signing ceremony in Brussels. Justin Trudeau, prime minister of Canada, said he wanted to “make sure that everyone gets that this is a good thing for our economies, but it’s also a good example to the world.”The agreement is supposed to eliminate most tariffs between Canada and the union and to level the playing field in other areas, benefiting both sides. Yet its near-death underscores the degree to which trade, and globalization in general, once trumpeted as a force for progress, have come to be seen as a vehicle for destroying jobs, making the rich richer and undermining national sovereignty. The backlash has been evident in the American presidential campaign, in the British vote to quit the union and in the populist parties sprouting across Europe.

It was recognition of these sentiments that prompted European Union officials to seek approval of the deal from all member states, which in turn empowered Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium, to block it. Promises of some changes persuaded the Walloons to lift their veto, but resistance is certain to be far broader to the huge Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership in the works between Europe and the United States, which has already drawn fierce opposition in Europe. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, another big pact embracing a dozen nations around the Pacific Rim, has been assailed by both presidential candidates.

Meanwhile, trade has declined. Binyamin Appelbaum reported in The Times that global trade was flat in the first quarter of this year and fell by 0.8 percent in the second quarter. The total value of American imports and exports fell by more than $200 billion last year; they’ve fallen by an additional $470 billion in the first nine months of this year. Sluggish growth is both a cause and a result of this slowdown.

It would be unfortunate if the Canada-European Union agreement turned out to be the last gasp of an era of expanding trade. If global trade is to start growing again, popular support for major accords must be earned, not assumed, and both the benefits and costs, in terms of jobs, taxes and regulations, must be honestly explained.

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