MILAN: Italy's deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio said on Friday (Jul 13) that a majority in parliament would reject an EU-Canada free trade deal, thereby threatening to scupper the entire agreement.
"Soon the CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) will come to parliament for ratification and the majority will reject it," Di Maio told Italy's main farming union, the Coldiretti.
"Any Italian civil servants abroad who continue to defend lousy treaties like CETA will be removed," he added in comments criticised by industry and consumer groups.
"Being here means, in my view, reclaiming a bit of healthy sovereignty," said Di Maio, who heads the populist, eurosceptic Five Star Movement.
He is joint deputy prime minister along with the Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right League party.
"We must defend Italy and the Italian economy," he added.
Agriculture Minister Gian Marco Centinaio, a member of the League, said last month that Italy's parliamentary majority would not ratify the pact as "it only protects a small part of our protected designation of origin" products.
"We shall ask parliament not to ratify thir treaty and others similar to CETA," Centinaio told La Stampa in an interview," saying that was consistent with the government manifesto agreed by the coalition partners.
Vincenzo Boccia, who heads Confindustria, Italy's employers' federation, said it would in his view be "a grave mistake" not to ratify the accord, RadioCor financial news agency reported.
"If the free trade treaty allows greater exports then it is in the national interest - if less exports, then no. The data suggest, it seems to me objectively, to open (Canada) up to Italy, rather than close it off," said Boccia, stressing export's role in creating wealth.
The consumer association ADUC also criticised Di Maio's opposition to the accord, highlighting that CETA notably protected 40 Italian products on the Canadian market, "a higher figure than ever."
The European Union and Canada formally signed the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) in October 2016, at a time when anti-globalisation sentiment was at fever pitch in Europe.
The accord eliminates 98 per cent of tariffs between the EU and Canada.
It needs to be ratified by all 28 members of the European Union in order to come into force. To date, 11 countries in total have ratified though it provisionally came into effect last September.
Its opponents have long branded it as a danger to health, democracy and the rule of law.
Farmers in Italy protested in 2017, demanding that the government scrap the pact.
They wanted speciality products such as Parmesan cheese to be labelled "Made in Italy".
CETA's supporters see the pact as an extension of the global trade system that faces a threat from protectionist US President Donald Trump.