Friday, 22 September 2017

Lower house approves CETA agreement

ČTK |
14 September 2017

Prague, Sept 13 (CTK) - The Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Czech parliament, gave consent to the ratification of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the European Union and its members and Canada on Wednesday.

The agreement removes most duties and fees between the EU and Canada. Thanks to it, Czech businesspeople may have easier access to the Canadian market.

The Senate, the upper house, approved CETA in April and the European Parliament (EP) in February.

Mainly Communist (KSCM) MPs criticised it during the debate in the Chamber of Deputies.

Industry and Trade Minister Jiri Havlicek (Social Democrats, CSSD) defended the agreement. It will boost Czech export and open Czech firms' access to public contracts on the federal and local levels in Canada, he argued.

Experts say CETA may increase the trade between the EU and Canada by up to one-fifth.

The EU estimates that its application will increase the trade by the equivalent of up to 324 billion crowns a year, encourage economic growth and create new jobs.

Critics say it may jeopardise thousands of jobs, which is denied by EU experts who refer to a number of independent studies.

Eighty-five out of the 132 MPs present voted for CETA. Mainly Communists voted against it, along with two Social Democrats, four government ANO MPs and four unaffiliated deputies.

The KSCM MPs claim that the agreement is not in the Czech interest and is not advantageous for the Czech Republic. They point to the risks for Czech consumers, saying CETA will weaken their position. They also say CETA takes primarily the interests of multinational firms into consideration and threatens public interests.

Some ANO deputies also raised objections to CETA. Pavel Plzak warned of the establishment of a special investment court to deal with disputes between firms and states. His fellow party member Bohuslav Chalupa pointed out that no one was able to explain the agreement's impact.

Finance Minister Ivan Pilny (ANO) dismissed the criticism.

The government said in its report justifying the consent that the final form of the CETA deal reflected Czech priorities as much as possible.

The Confederation of Industry said the CETA ratification is a good news for Czech firms.

"From our point of view, it is crucial that administrative and technical barriers will be removed thanks to the agreement and the trading in services will be liberalised," said Lukas Martin, from the Confederation.

Moreover, CETA guarantees an open and fair access to public contracts to Czech firms, Martin said.

After transitional periods expire, industrial commodities will be exported duty-free and Canada will remove up to 94 percent of customs in agricultural and food commodities.

The agreement is to start working provisionally on September 21. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced earlier that he had agreed on the date with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The Czech parliament previously approved the strategic partnership agreement between the EU and Canada, regulating joint steps against terrorism, the proliferation of the arms of mass destruction and money laundering.

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