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Canada-EU CETA takes major step towards ratification

Despite more than 320,000 people marching against CETA and TTIP in Germany on September 17, Germany and other European Union member state governments are set to sign-off on CETA on October 18.

The Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) took a major step towards ratification this week.

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 Friday September 23] in the Slovakian capital Bratislava. …The ministers in Bratislava said the two sides would put together a declaration spelling out the limits of the pact to dispel public concerns. …The ministers themselves are expected now to convene an extraordinary meeting on October 18, allowing the deal to be signed during the visit of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Brussels on October 27. It could enter force next year.”

Global News adds, “‘There was a great willingness to sign the agreement in October’, [Social Democrat] Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s economy minister and vice-chancellor, told reporters. However, lingering doubts remain elsewhere, notably in Austria, where Chancellor Christian Kern’s Social Democrats have grave concern, and Belgium, where not all regions back the deal. [But] 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.”

And RCI notes, “After the agreement is signed [on October 27], the European Parliament would need to approve it [likely in January 2017] before parts of the deal can provisionally enter into force. Some controversial provisions will not come into effect until the agreement is fully ratified – a process that could take several years. This is likely to include the planned creation of a tribunal for disputes involving investors, [European Union Trade Commissioner Cecilia] Malmstrom said. She predicted that the rest could provisionally come into effect early next year if all goes according to plan.”

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude 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 investor court 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.”

A case in point: The Commission on Environmental Co-operation was established in 1994 so that North American Free Trade Agreement (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.

While dates have not yet been confirmed, it is believed that the European Parliament International Trade Committee could vote on CETA on November 29, and that a plenary vote in the 751-member European Parliament could take place this December or more likely in January 2017. Efforts are being made to delay that vote. After that, most of the deal would be provisionally implemented, but would still need to be ratified by European Union member state national legislatures.

While there is some hope in both of these processes, it is also true that 1) a win in the European Parliament rests primarily on the Socialists & Democrats political bloc voting against the deal (which is in doubt following the investment protection “reforms” agreed to in March 2016) and that 2) the trade ministers (who are set to approve CETA on October 18) are also representatives of the majority or coalition governments in those member state legislatures.

That said, our German allies – Campact, foodwatch and More Democracy – have also brought a challenge before their Constitutional Court to have the provisional application of CETA ruled unconstitutional. The groups argue “the temporary implementation of CETA is immensely dangerous because it creates a reality without the agreement of the lower house of parliament”. The German Constitutional Court will hear the complaint on October 12 and a decision on the request for an interim order is expected on October 13. If the court rules against provisional application, it’s hoped that Germany could not agree to CETA on October 18.

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.

Further reading
Harper to block NAFTA commission from studying tar sands tailings ponds (January 12, 2015)
CETA does not ensure a government’s right to regulate (March 14, 2016)