I’ve been watching with interest the developments around the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement or CETA as it is commonly called. It has been lauded as Canada’s biggest bilateral initiative since NAFTA, and when it goes into effect, it will open markets in the EU to Canadian professional services - such as legal, architectural, engineering and urban planning - and vise versa. Once mutual recognition agreements (MRAs) are established between regulatory bodies, firms from the EU will have equal access to the Canadian market. The opportunities that this presents for both parties to the agreement could be a game-changer for some in our profession, as it will introduce a level of competition that has not been present before.
The agreement includes a detailed framework to facilitate MRA negotiation by legal and other service regulators, and well as government accountability measures. A government committee will be charged with gathering information from the various professional regulatory bodies, but it will be left up to the professional organizations themselves to take the initiative to set up MRAs.
As ratification is still pending on the agreement signed by Canada and the EU in late 2013, there has been little done in support of a Canada-EU MRA on legal services. But as negotiations were finalized in August of this year, and we expect the trade agreement to be officially presented at the Canada Summit in Ottawa this month, it is time to start thinking about how the legal profession in Canada will approach this opportunity. While it will take about two years for the EU to obtain approvals and sign-offs from the European Parliament and the 28 EU member states that time will pass quickly.
I’m certain that legal firms in the EU are considering how to approach the Canadian market – as this will be considered to be a lucrative opportunity. I suggest we turn our thoughts to what it will mean for us here in Canada, and consider what our next steps will be.