Barlow slams proposed Canada-EU CETA side deal as "smoke and mirrors"

Barlow marched in Stuttgart last weekend joining with 320,000 Germans protesting across the country against CETA.

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow has denounced a proposed side deal "declaration" for the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) as "smoke and mirrors".

Deutsche Welle reports, "European trade ministers appear set to approve a free-trade deal between the EU and Canada following a day-long meeting [on September 23] in the Slovakian capital Bratislava. ...The ministers said the two sides would put together a declaration spelling out the limits of the pact to dispel public concerns."

Global News adds, "Reinhold Mitterlehner, Austria’s Christian Democrat vice chancellor, said a declaration making clear that standards were not under threat and that a special court would not allow big business to dictate public policy would help."

But Barlow says, "The proposed declaration is smoke and mirrors. The only way anything can be legally binding is if they reopen the treaty itself and make the changes there. A declaration outside of CETA is meaningless and meant to assuage the growing concerns about this deal. While the declaration promises to protect public services, CETA itself contains standstill and ratchet clauses that clearly say once liberalized, services cannot be returned to public management. And the Investment Court System (ICS) they have agreed on still gives foreign corporations the right the challenge rules and standards they don’t like. This declaration is all for PR and won’t work."

Barlow has been speaking in Europe highlighting Canada's experience with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

A case in point would be the Commission on Environmental Co-operation which was established in 1994 so that NAFTA proponents could say that trade liberalization would be accompanied by environmental protection. It was meant to mitigate public concern about the trade deal by creating a mechanism that could look into public complaints about violations of national laws intended to protect the land, water and air. But if anything, its track record has proven the exact opposite. Between the 1994 and 2012, 80 complaints have been filed with the commission. Eighty-five per cent of those submissions have been dismissed or terminated.

And the Investment Court System put to the test report supports Barlow's view that the "right to regulate" argument is just a public relations spin.

The report examines five investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) challenges including: TransCanada's US$15 billion NAFTA challenge against the United States over US president Barack Obama's rejection of the Keystone XL 830,000 barrel per day tar sands pipeline, Lone Pine's $250 million NAFTA challenge over Quebec's moratorium on fracking for oil and gas under the St. Lawrence River, and Bilcon's US$300 million NAFTA challenge against an environmental impact assessment that stopped the construction of a quarry and marine terminal in a sensitive coastal area.

It concludes that, "Close analysis of each case shows that every one of these controversial disputes could still be launched and likely prosper under ICS. There is nothing in the proposed rules that prevents companies from challenging government decisions to protect health and the environment. And there is nothing to prevent arbitrators from deciding in their favour, ordering states to pay billions in taxpayer compensation for legitimate public policy measures. In other words, put to the test, the Investment Court System would fail to prevent any of these controversial cases from happening."

The Council of the European Union trade ministers are expected to hold an extraordinary meeting on October 18 to signal their support for CETA. Following that, European officials and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau will formally sign the agreement at a ceremony on October 27 in Brussels. CETA would then go to the European Parliament (in December or early 2017). If CETA is approved in that body, then most of the deal would be provisionally applied before European Union member state legislatures have the opportunity to vote on it.

The Council of Canadians first began challenging CETA in October 2008. Our first intervention at the European Parliament took place in July 2010 and over the years we have participated in more than a dozen different delegations to speak with European officials, allies and the public in opposition to this deal.