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Barlow opposes CETA ‘reform’, Trudeau in bind to get CETA ratified in Europe

Maude Barlow in Vienna

Barlow challenges CETA, ISDS and ICS in Vienna, Nov. 2015.

The Trudeau government is now in a bind to get the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) ratified in Europe.

CBC reports, “European Union officials quietly approached Justin Trudeau’s new government last fall with a request to revisit the controversial investment protection clause in the Canada-EU trade deal.” That’s because, “[CETA] risks a humiliating defeat on a ratification vote expected at the EU’s parliament in Brussels this fall, unless a compromise can be reached to appease moderate opponents.” In this Aug. 28, 2014 campaign blog, we noted that while 358 Members of the European Parliament are believed to support CETA, 341 MEPs currently oppose it as would most likely another 52 “non-attached” members.

Today’s news report suggests that both the Trudeau government and the European Commission believe the ISDS provision can be reworked as part of the legal scrubbing of the document and by “technical adjustments” rather than by re-opening negotiations on the deal that was concluded in Sept. 2014 under the Harper government.

The article then highlights, “Veteran campaigner Maude Barlow from the Council of Canadians has been in Europe trying to mobilize opposition. ‘I don’t think it could pass the European Parliament as it stands now’, she said. Europeans now see things as a two-part North American deal: part one is CETA with Canada, and its passage sets up part two with the U.S. Even if part two fails, American corporations with branch plants in Canada could still take aim at European policies, she’s argued. Facing these political headwinds, the EU proposed a new Investment Court System (ICS) this fall. …But Barlow’s collaborators believe the compromise might be worse, formalizing rights for foreign corporations that domestic companies would not have in the new court.”

In this Dec. 10, 2015 campaign blog, we noted that the European Commission has proposed that an Investment Court System replace the ISDS provision in both CETA and the United States-European Union Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The Council of Canadians has rejected this because ICS and ISDS are not substantially different. Barlow has stated, “The proposed investment court system still gives a special status to foreign corporations by allowing them to challenge the laws that apply to everyone else through a special system outside established court systems.”

We also commented in that blog, “The bind for the Trudeau government is this: It’s unlikely that CETA would pass in a ratification vote in the European Parliament given the high level of opposition in that body to ISDS and the growing demands for ‘reform’ to that provision. But given TTIP negotiations are ongoing, and the United States has rejected ICS in those talks, it’s likely not practical for Trudeau to endorse ICS in advance of a resolution of the issue within the TTIP. As such, a waiting game has likely developed.” Today’s CBC article notes that trade lawyer Mark Warner, who was part of Ontario’s team during the CETA talks, says the Americans “will be pretty pissed off at us” if the Trudeau government agrees to the ICS proposal in order to get CETA “implemented”.

This may be an issued that is discussed when Trudeau visits US President Barack Obama at the White House on March 10.

Stay tuned!

Further reading
US rejects Malmstrom’s proposals to amend ISDS in TTIP (May 11, 2015)
Fighting TTIP, CETA and ISDS: Lessons from Canada (a report by Maude Barlow)