France's ambassador to Canada speaks frankly about CETA, B.C. liquor reforms, and tourism

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      The day before Belgium's prime minister tweeted that his country had agreed to the European Union-Canada trade agreement, France's ambassador to Canada was expressing full confidence that the deal would be approved.

      In an interview with the Georgia Straight, Nicolas Chapuis declared that he didn't even want to think about the consequences for his country if the Belgian region of Wollonia blocked the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.

      That's because he was certain it would be approved within 24 hours.

      "It's the best possible agreement between the two major economies—the Canadian economy and the European economy," Chapuis said at the French consulate in Vancouver. "As you know, there has been no free trade agreement between G7 countries since NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement]. It's a long time ago. And it's under threat if you listen to Mr. Trump."

      NAFTA has come under criticism for its investor-state dispute-settlement mechanism. It enables companies to file complaints adjudicated by private lawyers appointed to trade tribunals.

      Last year, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives published a study revealing that Canada paid $172 million in damages in connection with complaints filed under Chapter 11.

      Chapuis called CETA a "new-generation trade agreement" with a better way of handling trade complaints.

      He revealed that Canadian negotiators wanted to maintain a NAFTA-like system as outlined in its Chapter 11. But according to Chapuis, the Europeans had concerns about "private lawyers intervening in the name of multinationals" and litigating on public policies concerning such areas as tobacco, health, and environmental and labour regulations.

      "We don't see why a company, whatever big, should compromise the right of democracies to regulate," the French ambassador said.

      As an example, he cited Europeans' concerns about food labelling, including requirements to disclose the existence of genetically modified organisms. "We don't want these types of cases arising," he stated.

      In 2014, the Straight published an article outlining the French government's concerns about the settlement of investor-state disputes. Chapuis said that earlier this year, a Franco-German proposal broke the deadlock.

      "Canadians approved the idea of a professional court with judges that will not be linked to private interests," Chapuis said. "That's the difference [with NAFTA]." 

      Wine rules come under World Trade Organization

      As the Canadians and Europeans were working out an investor-state dispute-settlement mechanism, a trade dispute was bubbling away over one of the B.C. government's recent liquor reforms.

      Earlier this year, the European Union and six other governments, including the United States, wrote a letter to B.C. premier Christy Clark objecting to a provincial policy providing preferential treatment to B.C. wine producers in grocery stores.

      Foreign wines would have to be sold in a "store-within-a-store" concept with a separate cash register; domestic wines, however, would be allowed on regular grocery shelves.

      In their letter earlier this year, foreign diplomats in Ottawa cited Article III:4 of the 1994 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. "Accordingly, we request that British Columbia amend the relevant regulations in order to ensure that the sale of wine in grocery stores is permitted on a non-discriminatory basis."

      When asked about this, Chapuis said that this issue is "independent of CETA" and really falls under the World Trade Organization, which enforces GATT.

      "We've made the case through the European Union delegation to the B.C. government," Chapuis noted. "We are pleading that there is discrimination, which is contrary to WTO rules that has the federation [Canada's] signature. What is happening in B.C. is happening elsewhere in Canada, not at the same scale.

      "Ontario is devising ways to promote its wines and so on," he continued. "And Quebec has looked at possibilities."

      He went on to describe Canadians as "free traders", and questioned why there was a fear of competition from foreign wines. He also noted that France has always been against "monopolies on wine and alcohol in Canada". (The government-owned B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch is the only wholesaler in the province, but there is competition on the retail side between public and private stores.)

      "We think it is unfair," Chapuis said. "It is bureaucratic. It's not conducive to free trade and to healthy competition on these agricultural products that are wines and alcohol."

      He also declared that high taxes on wines is another form of protectionism.

      "You get the good wines out of the market because of the taxes," Chapuis said, "because the consumer will not pay for that."

      Chapuis encourages tourists to visit France

      Canada is an important market for French tourism officials, according to Chapuis. That's because Canadians, on average, stay 11 nights on their visits, which is the highest of any country.

      But he also expressed concern that young Canadians are less likely than their parents to travel to his country. As a result, France would like to do more to encourage younger tourists to visit.

      He also acknowledged that terrorist attacks in Europe have had an effect on tourism to France.

      "The average fallout is 10 percent," Chapuis said.

      However, Chapuis also noted that France welcomes more tourists annually than its entire population. "We have 66 million French and 85 million tourists. It's incredible."