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Rome intends to block CETA to protect national food industry

Italy is renewing its threat to block the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada.

Italy’s agriculture minister Gian Marco Centinaio said on Thursday that Italy would not move to ratify the agreement, which came provisionally into force last September. The warning was echoed on Friday, July 13 by Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio.

The Minister of the Economy Giovanni Tria said that free trade is “always a good thing,” but “the devil is in the detail.”

CETA is expected to come formally into effect on September 21; the agreement came provisionally into force in September 2017. According to Canadian authorities, 98% of envisaged tariff reductions are already enforced.

The Italian government is concerned that CETA does not offer adequate protection for its 221 protected speciality products. Italy has the bigger number of speciality foods protected by EU law. They range from processed foods, such as mozzarella cheese and Balsamic Vinegar of Modena to Sicilian blood oranges.

According to Cecilia Malmstrom, Canada has granted protection to 143 European products, of which 41 are Italian. However, products such as Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and prosciutto di Parma ham are not included on the list.

It is true that the Canadian food sector expects to be one of the main beneficiaries of CETA, as EU markets open up to Canadian goods, including cheese, pork, beef and wine.

However, the head of Italy’s industrial lobby (Confindustria), Vincenzo Boccia, made clear that blocking CETA would be a serious mistake as Canada is a major market for Italian goods. However, Italy’s agricultural lobby (Coldiretti) has called CETA “wrong and risky” for the country.

If Rome does not allow CETA to go into effect, this will also cast doubt over the free trade agreement with South Korea, undermining the credibility of the EU as a negotiator.

Advocates of CETA believe the agreement will allow trade volumes to surge by 20%, boosting the EU’s economy by €12bn a year and Canada’s by €7.8bn.

CETA’s ratification is not expected before August 2018. If CETA is not ratified by the Italian parliament, the European Commission could take the matter to Court.

Original Publication New Europe: