CETA start hits snag over cheese quota dispute with Canada

Traditional Dutch cheese [Ali Eminov/Flickr]

Traditional Dutch cheese [Ali Eminov/Flickr]

The implementation of the EU’s comprehensive trade deal with Canada may be delayed because of a row over the management of quotas for cheese imported from Europe.

Canada’s CBC reported on its website that plans to have CETA (the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement) in place on 1 July were “threatened by a new cheese dispute”. It said Europeans were upset at how Canada would allocate import quotas for new EU products, including 18,000 additional tonnes of cheese that Canada has agreed to import tariff-free.

“This is an issue that can slow down the implementation of CETA. It will take time to be resolved and this can influence the deadline for when CETA will be implemented. As long as we don’t have an agreement on how quotas will be managed, there will be no implementation,” a source close to the EU dairy industry said on Monday (19 June).

A Commission spokeswoman confirmed to EURACTIV.com that there were “ongoing exchanges between us on the different aspects of multiple implementing regulations and measures, including those concerning the management of the Tariff Rate Quota (TRQ) on cheese”.

“We are hopeful that both sides will be able to iron out the remaining issues promptly, as both sides are committed to ensuring a prompt and effective provisional application of CETA,” the spokeswoman said.

The latest twist comes barely a month after Canada ratified the deal on 17 May, a move that opened the door for what was hoped to be its provisional application in the coming weeks.

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The EU spokeswoman said there was no firm date for CETA to take effect. “It is expected to happen as soon as the remaining formalities related to its implementation on the Canadian side are completed.”

Last autumn, Paul Magnette, the Socialist minister-president of Belgium’s Francophone Wallonia, nearly derailed the CETA deal when he put forward a list of demands to change it. Belgium is the only EU country whose regional parliaments can vote to ratify CETA but the Wallonia parliament eventually backed the deal.

Once applied, CETA will abolish virtually all tariffs between Canada and the EU and the Commission has said it should lead to savings of more than €500 million in taxes for EU exporters per year.

The two sides have agreed to provisionally apply most of the agreement, while the rest is subject to ratification in 27 EU member states’ national parliaments — all except Malta’s.

Dozens of European cheeses, particularly in France and Italy, have been granted a protected geographical status under EU law and many cheese producers in the EU are keen to get a foothold in the Canadian market.

At least 30% of the new 18,000 tonnes of cheese were allocated for new entrants, “those who have not had quotas before. We’ve heard the Commission was not happy with the way the Canadians see it — they (Canadians) want to protect their dairy market,” the EU dairy source said.

The EU, for its part, will liberalise all its dairy tariff lines once the deal takes effect.

Reacting to the news, Copa and Cogeca Secretary-General Pekka Pesonen said: “We support the Commission and expect it to deliver in implementing the Ceta agreement on 1 July. The EU will benefit from increased access for its cheeses on the Canadian market as a result of this agreement”.