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Is the era of major trade deals over despite CETA agreement?

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Anti-CETA protesters in front of the European Parliament on 15 of February 2017. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

Europe is likely to increase business with Canada after the EU parliament gave the green light to the controversial free trade deal CETA. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to address the parliament in Strasbourg on Thursday, after seven years of tough talks. RFI takes a look at what happens next.


CETA - the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement -- is being described as a landmark deal. But what does it mean exactly?

CETA is a massive trade deal that will remove 99 percent of customs duties between  Canada and the European Union.

Unlike classic trade deals, it also attempts to harmonise regulations on matters such as health and the environment.

However, the deal has been met with strong resistance throughout Europe. Protesters tried to block access to the European Parliament ahead of the vote Wednesday.

Opponents delivered a petition to the EU parliament with three and a half million signatures, slamming the deal as a danger to health, democracy and the rule of law.

One of the main sticking points is the proposal to set up special courts to settle disputes between investors and national authorities.

Activists say this gives too much power to multi-national companies over states.

Given the opposition, is surprising that it made it through?

Not really, given the division of the EU parliament Socialist group on the matter and the support of the Liberal and Conservative groups to CETA.

"I'm disappointed," says Karl Bär, the spokesperson for the Stop TTIP alliance. "It was a long campaign against CETA. They said 'Yes' in parliament, but we think that there is a majority of the population, at least in many member states, against the CETA."

What happens now?

CETA still has to be ratified by the 28 European Member states - a process that could take years.

But the EU parliament's vote allows a provisional implementation of the trade deal as early as March.

"In order to circumvent this big ratification process, it is forseen that a big part of Ceta -90%- will provisionally enter into force," explains Guillaume Van der Loo, a researcher with the Center for European Policy Study.

"This means that the part of the agreement that falls under EU competences can already be applied. The date will most likely be the 1st of April for this."

Is this really a victory for pro-trade politicians?

The vote comes at a particularly sensitive time for global trade matters with Britain leaving the EU and new US president Trump rejecting an Asia-Pacific trade deal.

And while CETA is important for Europe, it is also largely symbolic given Canada's economy being relatively small. All eyes are now turned on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership deal, or TTIP.

This trade agreement, between the US and Europe, is now all but dead, with Trump expected to officially drop the negotiations.

"I think this would have been a good news for TTIP a while ago, but now that Trump has been elected, TTIP really is in the freezer," Marianne Schneider-Petsinger, Geoeconomics Fellow at Chatham House.

"I would say that the era of big mega regional deals is certainly over, but there could potentially be movement on a bilateral basis between countries. One agreement that has been mentioned in the past few months is the potential US-UK bilateral deal."

However, TTIP and CETA will most likely remain at the center of the news for the next months.

Karl Bär pledges to 'keep fighting CETA, because there's chances that it won't be ratified."