Italy is willing to disrupt the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) signed between the EU and Canada to protect its food industry, Italy’s agriculture minister Gian Marco Gentinaio said on Thursday.
CETA must be ratified by EU national and a number of regional parliaments before coming into effect, with Italian approval pending.
In an interview with the Italian daily La Stampa, Gentinaio warned that CETA fails to guarantee a range of products branded as Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PDI).
Gentinaio is a member of the far-right Lega party; Lega officials, including Matteo Salvini, do not shy away from echoing the Trump-inspired motto “Italy First,” but this is the first time this motto has a bearing on trade policy.
A spokesperson for the European Commission on Thursday said that CETA will open new opportunities for Italian exports, underscoring that 63,000 Italian jobs already depend on the Canadian market. Most of these jobs are in small and medium-sized enterprises.
Italy has 221 protected products, that is, the highest in the EU. Food speciality goods ranging from mozzarella cheese to Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and also includes non-processed foods such as Sicilian blood oranges, apples and vegetables. According to Cecilia Malmstrom, Canada has granted protection to 143 European products, of which 41 are Italian.
Italy is worried especially for its cheese industry, with many of Italian-type products made in Canada. Italy currently enjoys a trade surplus with Canada to the tune of €3bn, exporting not only food but also ceramic tiles, textiles and furniture.
CETA opens the door to Canadian public procurement, paves the way for harmonization of standards, and a study by the Journal of Political Economy (March 2017) estimates that it could generate 300,000 jobs.
The Italian threat comes just as Washington is taking a series of unilateral actions that undermine the North American Free Trade (NAFTA) agreement.