October 24, 2016

Small Special Interests, Big Influence

Nita Ghei

Director of Policy Editing
Summary

International trade is particularly vulnerable to the influence of special interest groups. 

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It seems like it's always Groundhog Day when it comes to international trade treaties. Just when it looked like the long-delayed Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between the European Union and Canada was on the verge of being signed, it hit yet another snag. Even though the treaty would eliminate tariffs on almost all goods between the EU and Canada and potentially benefit millions of people, farmers in the tiny Wallonia region of Belgium are currently holding it hostage to the point where Canadian Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland admitted defeat and returned home.

Unfortunately, this is neither new nor unexpected. When it comes to trade, small special interest groups often extract privileges at the expense of millions of consumers, as well as other producers.

The EU-Canada deal is just the latest victim of this and in a particularly bizarre way. An agreement between two rich, developed trading partners should not be this difficult, but negotiations for this treaty have been underway since 2009. Various groups in the EU have sought to stop the agreement, claiming that it would undermine labor and environmental standards, even though Canada is not exactly notorious for sweatshops, or violating workers' rights. The German Federal Constitutional Court rightly rejected these claims in early October, which was the first sign of hope that Canadians and EU residents might finally avail themselves of the benefits of enhanced freedom to trade.

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