Italy in no rush to reject EU-Canada trade deal

Italian sausages, cheeses and other traditional foods for sale in Milan’s Piazza del Duomo in December 2016. (Florin1961/iStock/Getty Images)

Brussels | Reuters — Italy is in no hurry to bring the European Union’s free trade agreement with Canada to a parliamentary vote, its farm minister said on Monday, suggesting its opposition to the deal may be easing.

Ministers of the eurosceptic 5-Star/League government have said Italy would not ratify CETA (the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement), threatening the EU’s first major trade deal since an EU-South Korean accord launched in 2011.

However, Agriculture Minister Gian Marco Centinaio told reporters in Brussels, “Nobody is in a hurry to bring CETA to the chamber.”

Speaking before a meeting of EU agriculture ministers in Brussels, he also said no date had been set for a parliamentary debate and that the government had not discussed this.

CETA took effect provisionally in September 2017, with the reduction or removal of tariffs on 98 percent of products, but needs to be ratified by all 28 EU countries. Just one failure to ratify could bring the whole deal down.

According to the EU statistics office Eurostat, Italian goods exports to Canada have increased by 2.1 per cent year-on-year in the eight months since CETA provisionally entered into force, and its food and animal exports by 11.9 per cent.

Asked why Italy would block a deal that boosted exports, Centinaio responded, “We want to understand with concrete data whether CETA is really advantageous for our country. We have the impression that it is not… We do not have other data. We have assumptions, mostly perceptions from firms, mainly from the agriculture sector.”

The 5-Star/League government, which took office on June 1, has said it will take a hard line on defending Italian speciality foods.

Of the 28 European Union countries, Italy has the most food products with PDO, or Protected Designation of Origin, and PGI, or Protected Geographical Indication, labels.

These include Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and Prosciutto di Parma ham. Under CETA, Canada has recognized more than 40 Italian PDO and PGI labels out of a total of over 200.

Centinaio said he wanted to check whether those not covered were exclusively local products that were unlikely to be exported to Canada. If that was not the case, Italy could push to add more.

— Reporting for Reuters by Francesco Guarascio and Philip Blenkinsop.

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