While others burn bridges, we're building new ones
On 7 April over 400 citizens, mainly Polish and international students, gathered at the Vistula University for an energetic debate with Cecilia Malmström, the Commissioner for Trade, and Tadeusz Kościński, Undersecretary of State in the Ministry of Economic Development in Poland. The debate mainly focused on the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).
The Dialogue began with both Commissioner Malmström and Mr Kościński underlining that CETA is opening up possibilities for small businesses. "Today in Poland, one and a half million jobs – one in eight of the workforce – depend on exports outside the EU" - Commissioner Malmström stressed.
She explained that Poland's exports to Canada were worth over PLN 5 billion in 2015, and CETA will strengthen this relationship, open new opportunities, and create new jobs. It will immediately cut 99% of all tariffs, which means that EU exporters will save the equivalent of over PLN 2 billion in tariffs alone.
The Commissioner then presented concrete examples. The Delphia shipyard makes luxury yachts. It employs 700 people in Masuria, a region of over 17% unemployment. It is one of the biggest taxpayers in the city of Olecko, and 95% of their production goes overseas. CETA will eliminate all the Canadian tariffs they face – currently as high as 9.5%. Another example is fruit and vegetable exporter Ewa-Bis. Based in Warsaw, they employ over 200 people and exported 400 tonnes of apples to Canada last year. CETA will remove bureaucratic barriers, improving their access. In fact, nearly two thousand Polish companies export today to Canada.
Some participants warned that CETA may be detrimental to the environment and wanted to know how CETA will protect environmental standards, in particular with regard to GMOs and hormones. "Nothing in CETA means that we lower our standards" - the Commissioner replied. She explained that that all food and products will continue to be governed by European standards and set by European lawmakers.
The discussion then turned to the many myths surrounding CETA, with many participants fearing that there is too much fake news on CETA. Tadeusz Kościński stated that fear of CETA often stems from a lack of knowledge of what this agreement really means, that is important to prepare the Polish businesses that will benefit from CETA.
One participant asked how CETA will benefit smaller farmers, since usually only the larger companies are able to export to bigger markets. The Commissioner explained that CETA has a lot to offer, but it is up to the companies themselves to use these opportunities.
The debate continued with some participants emphasising that a Citizens' Dialogue should also be a social dialogue. From their perspective, the rights of employees are often forgotten in Poland.
Others stated that the EU is currently too occupied with Brexit and the UK. One participant wanted to know whether there is enough time for negotiations about the next financial perspective, and was reassured by the Commissioner that talks about it have already started.
"While others burn bridges, we're building new ones" - Commissioner Malmström concluded. When asked about how we can improve communication on CETA, she replied that she is engaged in dialogues with every Member State, but in her view, it is also up to the Member States to inform their citizens about CETA.