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CETA Without Blinders:
How Cutting ‘Trade Costs and More’ Will Cause Unemployment, Inequality and Welfare Losses
Pierre Kohler and Servaas Storm
GDAE Working Paper 16-03
September 2016
Download the Working Paper in:
English, French
Download the Executive Summary in
, French

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) is now in the process of being ratified by Canada and the European Union (EU). Like other ‘new generation’ trade agreements, CETA aims at further liberalizing trade, investment and other sectors of society so far protected from market competition. CETA is thus more than just a ‘trade deal’ and needs to be approached in its complexity, without blinders.

CETA’s proponents emphasize the prospect of higher GDP growth due to rising trade volumes and investment. However, official projections suggest GDP gains of up to 0.08% for the European Union 0.76% for Canada. More importantly, all these projections stem from a single trade model, which assumes full employment and no negative impact on income distribution in all countries excluding the major risks of deeper liberalization. This lack of intellectual diversity and of realism shrouding the debate around CETA’s alleged economic benefits calls for an alternative assessment grounded in sounder modeling premises.

This working paper, edited by Jeronim Capaldo, Coordinator of the Modeling Policy Reform Program, provides alternative projections of CETA’s economic effects using the United Nations Global Policy Model (GPM). Allowing for changes in employment and income distribution, and acknowledging that CETA is more than just an old-fashioned trade deal, produces very different results. The authors find that CETA will cause unemployment, inequality, welfare losses and a reduction of intra-EU trade.

Specifically, the authors find that:

  • CETA will lead to intra-EU trade diversion. Trade balances and current accounts in Germany, France and Italy may improve, but this will happen to the detriment of the United Kingdom and other EU countries.

  • CETA will lead to a reduction of the labor income share. Competitive pressures exerted by CETA on firms and transferred onto workers will raise the share of national income accruing to capital and symmetrically reduce the share of national income accruing to labor. By 2023, the profit share will have risen by 1.76% and 0,66% in Canada and the EU, respectively, mirroring the decline in the labor share.

  • CETA will lead to wage compression. By 2023, workers will have foregone average annual earnings increases of €1776 in Canada and between €316 and €1331 in the EU depending on the country. Countries with higher labor income shares and unemployment, such as France and Italy, will experience the most pronounced wage compression.

  • CETA will lead to net losses of government revenue. Competitive pressures exerted by CETA on governments by international investors and shrinking policy space for supporting domestic investment, production and investment will reduce government revenue and expenditure. Government deficits will also increase as a percentage of GDP in every EU country, pushing public finances closer or beyond the limits set by the Maastricht treaty.

  • CETA will lead to job losses. By 2023, about 230 thousand jobs will be lost in CETA countries, 200 thousand of them in the EU, and 80 thousand more in the rest of the world, adding to the rising dependency ratio (the average number of people supported by one job).

  • CETA will lead to net losses in terms of GDP. As investment and foreign demand remain sluggish, aggregate demand shortfalls nurtured by higher unemployment will also hurt productivity and cause cumulative welfare losses amounting to 0.96% and 0.49% of national income in Canada and the EU, respectively. While the United Kingdom (-0.23%) and Germany (-0.37%) may be least affected, France (-0.65%) and Italy (-0.78%) will lose more than other EU countries (-0.53%).

In sum, CETA will lead not just to economic losses but also to rising unemployment and inequality, with negative implications for social cohesion in an already complex and volatile political context.

The authors draw two general conclusions from these bleak prospects for EU policymakers. First, quantitative studies that are by construction oblivious to proven risks related to comprehensive liberalization do not represent an adequate basis for informing policy-makers about the economic implications of CETA. Alternative approaches to modeling, which acknowledge the risks of deeper liberalization and can quantify their impact and cost, are required for providing meaningful insights as to the likely consequences of CETA.

Second, seeking to boost exports as a substitute for domestic demand is not a sustainable growth strategy for the EU or Canada. In the current context of high unemployment and low growth, improving competitiveness by lowering labor cost can only harm the economy. Were policy-makers to adopt CETA and go down this road, they would soon be left with only one option for reviving demand in the face of growing social tensions: increase private lending, possibly through renewed financial deregulation, opening the door to unsustainable debt and financial instability. Instead of repeating the same errors of the past, policy-makers should rather stimulate economic activity through coordinated and lasting support of labor incomes and seek ways of initiating a much-required socio-ecological transition.

About the U.N. Global Policy Model:
Documentation and papers about the UN Global Policy Model are available on UNCTAD's website.
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Related Commentary:
Rejet wallon du CETA, nouvel accroc pour le libre-échange, Servaas Storm and Pierre Kohler, Le Monde diplomatique, October 14, 2016
The CETA Trade Pact Will Add to the Groundswell of Discontent: Why We Need More Informed Decision-Making, Servaas Storm and Pierre Kohler, Naked Capitalism, October 7, 2016
Le CETA: commerce au service du bien commun ou Pangloss à la solde du capital?, Pierre Kohler, Mediapart, September 30, 2016

Press Coverage:
Data Dive: The pitfalls in the EU-Canada trade deal, Reuters, Oct. 31, 2016
I hate Trump and Farage. But on free trade they have a point, The Guardian, Oct. 19, 2016


Pierre KohlerThe Citizens' CETA Summit
On October 20, 2016, Pierre Kohler spoke
about economic assessments of CETA at a transatlantic gathering of local & public representatives in the European Parliament, Brussels. (Kohler's presentation starts at 14:37:30. Note: video is available 11 languages.)
Download a PDF of presentation in English or French

Jeronim CapaldoCETA, TTIP: two sides of the same coin?
On September 6, 2016, Jeronim Capaldo spoke
about TTIP and CETA at the first event of the new Progressive Caucus of the European Parliament.

Other Publications from the Modeling Policy Reform project:
Trading Down: Unemployment, Inequality and Other Risks of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, Jeronim Capaldo, Alex Izurieta, and Jomo Kwame Sundaram, GDAE Working Paper 16-01, January 2016

The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership: European Disintegration, Unemployment and Instability
, Jeronim Capaldo, GDAE Working Paper 14-03, October 2014

Read more on Modeling Policy Reform
Read more on Reforming U.S. Trade Policy
Read more from GDAE’s Globalization and Sustainable Development Program

The Global Development and Environment Institute’s Globalization and Sustainable Development Program examines the economic, social and environmental impacts of economic integration in developing countries, with a particular emphasis on the WTO and NAFTA's lessons for trade and development policy. The goal of the program is to identify policies and international agreements that foster sustainable development.

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