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Is Canada pushing for the undemocratic “provisional application” of CETA?

European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland back CETA.

Last month, we asked if Canadian trade minister Chrystia Freeland was supporting the provisional application of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with European leaders attending the G20 trade ministers’ meeting in Shanghai, China – Does the Canadian trade minister support the provisional application of CETA?, July 9, 2016.

Today, POLITICO (a Brussels-based global news company) reports that Jean-Luc Demarty, the European Commission’s Director-General for Trade, “stressed there was a risk that Ottawa would not sign the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement at the EU-Canada summit on October 27 if the EU fails to agree on a provisional application. Canadian officials had no immediate comment.”

That article continues, “The toughest argument in Brussels concerns how much of the deal can be implemented provisionally. Several states say that the parts of the deal related to investment should be sliced out of the provisional application and left entirely to the discretion of parliaments. …In a preliminary policy document obtained by POLITICO, the Commission said that it recognized that the investment protection clause, which grants foreign investors special rights to sue governments, is a hot topic in some EU states and could be carved out from a provisional application [but] the Commission stressed that excluding other investment clauses on market access and equal treatment for investors ‘would lead to a considerably lesser scope of provisional application as compared to all recent [trade deals].'”

The news report also notes, “Diplomats are sharply divided about the implications of any parliament in a member country voting against the deal. The Commission argues that the deal can continue to be implemented indefinitely in the legal gray zone of provisional application, even if a few countries voted against. But diplomats from some member countries disagree and argue that political opposition in even one parliament could torpedo the whole deal.”

Radio Canada International has previously quoted Freeland saying the decision by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker to agree to CETA being a “mixed” agreement “was anticipated and will keep CETA on track”. In addition, the Wall Street Journal has quoted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying, “[The commission’s new approach to ratification] is not necessarily bad. It is a stage that we expected to happen.”

What do they mean by these comments? Is it a tacit acknowledgement that while national parliaments can vote on the deal it will be implemented before those votes? Given it would take 2 to 5 years to have national and regional parliaments ratify CETA, and the Canadian government has been insisting that the agreement could be 90 per cent implemented by early 2017, it is a reasonable conclusion to suggest that Trudeau and Freeland are backing the provisional application of CETA.

The Council of Canadians stands with our German allies Mehr Demokratie (More Democracy) on the matter of provisional application of CETA. Their spokesperson Roman Huber has commented, “It would be a democratic scandal to circumvent parliaments. We think that this [agreement] is against the German constitution and therefore we are preparing a legal challenge against provisional application and against certain contents of CETA which would endanger democracy.”

We are also calling for Prime Minister Trudeau to postpone his scheduled trip to Brussels on October 27 to sign CETA and to instead order a study of the deal – as highlighted in this blog – given Brexit removes the EU’s second largest economy and Canada’s largest European trading partner from CETA.

Even the former Conservative trade minister Ed Fast, who oversaw the CETA negotiations and who wants Freeland to succeed in ratifying the deal, agrees with us! The Canadian Press now reports, “Only a detailed study, he said, can determine whether Britain’s absence from the trade grouping undermines concessions Canada made in order to win greater access for goods and services in the larger EU bloc.”

For more on our campaign to stop CETA, please click here.