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The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement - how can small and medium-sized enterprises benefit even more?

One year after the provisional entry into force of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), most small and medium-sized enterprises are doing well out of it. At a round table at the EESC on 4 October 2018, on the opportunities CETA gives small and medium-sized enterprises – "Opportunities arising from CETA for SMEs" – participants identified a number of initiatives companies could still take advantage of to ensure that all SMEs can benefit from the CETA. Although the agreement has been successful overall, there are some concerns about its implementation in certain sectors – such as dairy – and its ratification.

SMEs are not always familiar with all the details of trade agreements. They don't always take full advantage of the opportunities the agreements offer, either. That is why we need to improve their understanding of the CETA and help them access foreign markets, according to Violeta Jelić, vice-president of the Employers group, in her welcome speech. H.E. Daniel Costello, Canadian Ambassador to the EU, echoed her words. He also stressed that modern trade agreements – such as the CETA – require inclusive growth, public participation and the consultation of non-traditional stakeholders (such as young people, women entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprises).

SMEs did very well out of the provisional entry into force of the CETA, according to Dan Kelly, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. According to the data he presented, for every one company that lost out, four benefited.

Veronique Willems, secretary-general of the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, listed initiatives that could raise awareness of the CETA and create new business opportunities. These include Erasmus for entrepreneurs, sharing knowledge with Canadian counterparts and strengthening business networks.

What we have achieved so far – including a 7% increase in exports to Canada – seemed impossible two years ago – Markus Beyrer, director-general of BusinessEurope, pointed out. He believes that the CETA will be judged on how well it is implemented.

The Committee of Professional Agricultural Organisations-General Confederation of Agricultural Cooperatives (Copa-Cogeca) overwhelmingly supports the CETA, but some agricultural groups and sectors take a different view, according to Pekka Pesonen, secretary-general of Copa-Cogeca.

Public service providers are still very wary of free trade agreements, admitted Valeria Ronzitti, secretary-general of CEEP, the European Centre of Employers and Enterprises providing Public Services and Services of general interest. Nonetheless, the close collaboration with stakeholders during the CETA negotiations has helped a lot to improve the image of free trade agreements.

Arnaldo Abruzzini, chief executive officer of EuroChambres, warned that there might still be serious issues with CETA ratification. He thinks that the more we talk about and give prominence to the agreement, the more it can be hijacked.

Neil McMillan, director of advocacy and trade at EuroCommerce, pointed out that digitalisation, a megatrend that helps SMEs access international markets, could also play a role in the context of the CETA.

Further debate included contributions from the presidents of the EESC Workers group, Diversity Europe, a number of questions from the members of the Employers group, and the comments of the European Commission representative. The round table was organised jointly by the EESC Employers group and the Mission of Canada to the EU.