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Cyprus Votes Against EU Trade Deal with Canada

Lawmakers argue the treaty does not protect their national cheese.

Nicos Anastasiades Mette Frederiksen
President Nicos Anastasiades of Cyprus speaks with Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen of Denmark during a meeting of the European Council in Brussels, February 20 (European Council)

First tiny Wallonia threatened to derail the EU’s free-trade agreement with Canada. Now Cyprus, with a population of 1.2 million, is putting at risk a treaty that covers nearly 500 million consumers and 28 percent of the world’s economy.

Cypriot lawmakers voted 37 to eighteen against the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which eliminates nearly all tariffs between Canada and the EU and includes mutual recognition of professional qualifications and product standards.

It’s one of those product standards the Cypriots are unhappy about. They argue CETA should close the Canadian market to foreign ripoffs of their national cheese, halloumi.

Leverage

Politico reports the one thing Greeks and Turks on the divided island agree on is that halloumi, or hellim in Turkish, should be protected much like champagne from the eponymous region in France and Italian Parma ham.

The problem is that the European Commission has used halloumi as political leverage over Nicosia in the past to pressure for reunification of the island, suggesting the protected designation should come only after the rubbery delicacy produced on both sides of the Green Line is brought into a common system of sanitary oversight.

Now Cypriot parties have turned the tables on Brussels to exert some pressure of their own.

Step too far

The vote doesn’t necessarily scuttle the whole deal, which is already in effect.

The Cypriot government has to officially notify the European Commission if it wants to pull out of the treaty, which may be a step too far. President Nicos Anastasiades’ center-right Democratic Rally supports the trade agreement.

If Cyprus persists, Canada and the EU could add halloumi as a protected product designation without reopening the whole agreement.

Domino effect

The fear is that a Cypriot “no” might trigger a domino effect.

In the Netherlands, which is otherwise one of the most liberal and free-trading nations in Europe, opposition parties, which control the upper chamber of parliament, have their own doubts.

In Italy, the ruling Five Star Movement and opposition League are outright opposed to the treaty. The two have a majority in parliament. Like the Greek Cypriots, the League argues CETA does not sufficiently protect Italian products, such as Gorgonzola and Parmesan cheese, from imitation.

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