DUBLIN — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is leaning on Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar to help convince his European counterparts to give the go-ahead to the Canada-Europe free trade agreement.
The wide-ranging Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA, was settled last year after more than seven years of talks, but is in for a rocky ride as all 28 member nations of the European Union must now vote on it independently.
Everything from pharmaceuticals to Canadian cheese and protections for private foreign investors have called into question the certainty of whether CETA will be finalized or end up falling apart.
Canada and Ireland, however, both have governments that back the deal, and Trudeau is hoping a bit of pressure from the newly minted Irish leader might help sway some of his European counterparts to give it the green light.
“CETA will give Canadian and Irish businesses greater access to each other’s markets; it will deliver stronger economic growth,” said Trudeau.
“The kind that benefits all citizens. It will create more good, well-paying jobs on both sides of the Atlantic. Like Ireland, Canada is very much looking forward to the agreement coming into force.”
Trudeau will meet some of the other CETA members later this week at the G20 meeting in Hamburg, but many of them are less decisive in their support, including both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.
Even getting CETA on the agenda at the G20 might be tough, given Merkel and Macron’s focus on the Paris climate change accord, and other burgeoning issues like the first in-person meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
North Korea’s latest missile test claims will also surely dominate much of the discussion.
Varadkar said a commitment to CETA is one of the many things he shares with Trudeau.
“We are both very committed to free trade as one of the best means to create good jobs for the middle class, the working class and also to make us all better off in the long run,” he told a news conference with Trudeau following their meeting.
Canada is hoping the deal will help it diversify its economy beyond the United States, while Ireland wants it because it is tied at the hip economically with Britain, a country that’s in the throes of a messy withdrawal from the EU.
Canada’s relationship with the United States and Ireland’s relationship with Britain are similar, Varadkar noted: “We each share a relationship with a very big neighbour, a neighbour that has to a certain extent decided to go a different direction, at least for the time being.”
Trudeau is the first foreign visitor for Varadkar, who was sworn in as his country’s Taoiseach less than three weeks ago.
The two men were compared during Varadkar’s campaign for his party’s leadership this spring largely based on their ages — Trudeau is 45, Varadkar 38 — and stylish personas.
It was a comparison Varadkar took one step further, honing in on Trudeau’s fancy sock fetish by showing up to Tuesday’s meeting sporting bright red socks emblazoned with maple leaves and cartoon Mounties.
He even gave Trudeau a pair of green socks as one of his gifts.
Their politics are also quite similar, with both embracing global co-operation and free trade, immigration and diversity. Both have also pushed for stronger influence and more powerful roles for women in their respective governments.
Varadkar, however, was asked by the Irish media why he didn’t strive for gender parity in his cabinet, as Trudeau famously did. He said largely it was because not enough women were elected.
Trudeau spent much of the day engaging in Irish activities and sightseeing as the country laid out the red carpet. Small crowds of people gathered at many of the more public events as both Irish residents and tourists alike tried to get near.
He spent some time watching young kids play hurling, one of Ireland’s two national sports that includes a stick and a ball. Trudeau did try to bounce the ball on the stick but without much success.
He also visited the Irish Emigration Museum and the Famine Memorial, attended a roundtable with local business leaders and met with Irish President Michael Higgins at the official president’s residence.
Trudeau and Varadkar also spoke of their commitment to climate change, diversity and the need for greater gender balance in governments.
Varadkar joked that he received good advice from Trudeau during their meeting, since he’s been in office about 18 days while Trudeau has held office for about 18 months.
Trudeau heads to Scotland on Wednesday to meet with Queen Elizabeth before going to Germany for the G20 summit in Hamburg.