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Free Trade Deal Must be Taken Advantage Of

President Trump’s famous antipathy toward free trade deals has left T-TIP, the great Euro-Atlantic pact that was supposed to open up our economies and spur growth forward, in a curious form of limbo: Not yet dead, but currently stored in a file marked “deep freeze”.

With a serendipitous piece of timing, we are about to find out if he was a prescient president or plain wrong. Fittingly for this issue, with its focus on North America, we have a rival trade deal on the cards, this time between Canada and the EU: The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA.

Like T-TIP, CETA has had its detractors from the outset. People power groups like SumOfUs and 38 Degrees have been deeply skeptical about what it means for the ordinary citizen. Data protection and sovereignty issues have been raised, as well as what can be seen as fundamentally different approaches either side of the Atlantic to issues like GMOs.

Indeed, CETA nearly did not happen at all. Needing unanimous support from the member states for the European Commission to sign it into force, it fell victim to Belgian politics, of all things. The Fidesz government may have been early and vocal supporters of the Trump candidacy and later presidency, but it disagrees with him about free trade deals. When CETA was still hanging in the balance, a clearly frustrated Péter Szijjártó, the Hungarian Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister, was said to have remarked: “Who can we sign a trade agreement with if not Canada?”

But signed it was, and it will come into effect very soon, presumably to growing fanfare. Nick Sarvari, the president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Hungary makes two important points about CETA: The first is that it is an “exceptionally important beginning to a new level of dialogue”; and, when people are talking there is a chance to address the most complex of challenges and “find solutions to the most convoluted dilemmas”. The second is that CETA might well be the best trade agreement ever signed; the more important factor is “how well Hungary takes advantage of the environment CETA has created”.

One other thought on North American relations with Hungary. Our Special Report includes interviews with the Canadian and Mexican Ambassadors to Hungary. We would love to have included one with the U.S. Ambassador, but were unable to do so.

Five months after the inauguration of President Trump and the departure of the last post holder, Colleen Bell (an appointee of President Barack Obama), there is still no U.S. Ambassador in post in Budapest. This is not the first time there has been such an interregnum. Indeed, Bell herself was nominated in 2013 but did not take up the office until early in 2015, her appointment having become embroiled in partisan power politics in Washington. But as of today, we don’t even have a hint as to who might be considered for the role.

The embassy is just as much in the dark as anyone else, as press attaché Richard Damstra told the Budapest Business Journal: “President Trump has not yet nominated a new U.S. Ambassador to Hungary. We have no further information at this time.”