VIENNA Oct 3 Austria's government on Monday
seemed to have found common ground on a free trade agreement
between the European Union and Canada with Chancellor Christian
Kern, who has criticised the pact in the past, saying
negotiations were on the right track.
Social Democrat Kern's opposition to the Comprehensive
Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada - which is seen
as a test for an EU-U.S. trade deal - had been countered by
fervent praise for the deal from his conservative vice
Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner.
The Austrian government's split mirrors Europe-wide debates
about transatlantic free trade deals in which anti-globalisation
groups see standards at risk while supporters hope for more jobs
and export revenues.
Canada's trade minister and EU ministers agreed on a legally
binding additional declaration in late September to clarify the
points which sparked public concerns.
Kern said the government's "legal demands" would be met if
a system which allows companies to sue governments in investment
courts not provisionally enter into force but be subject to
approval by national parliaments, and if national governments
were allowed to decide which services to define as "public".
Kern earlier had voiced concern that the deals could allow
companies to challenge public policies if they felt regulations
put them at a disadvantage, and that they might harm social and
environmental standards in Europe.
"There is thus no further obstacle to a joint Austrian
government line ," Economy Minister Mitterlehner said. "This is
a reasonable way for the export nation Austria."
EU ministers are expected to convene an extraordinary
meeting on Oct. 18, allowing the deal to be signed during the
visit of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Brussels on
Oct. 27. It could provisionally enter force early next year.
(Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Editing by Richard Balmforth)