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Canada’s trade minister in the UK, May government reaffirms commitment to help get CETA ratified

Photo: Chrystia Freeland, Liam Fox

Canadian trade minister Chrystia Freeland met with the United Kingdom’s new Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox in London yesterday to discuss the implementation of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) as well as future UK bilateral ‘free trade’ agreements.

The BBC reported, “Canada has been sharing details of its trade deal with the European Union with the UK, the country’s trade minister says. The Canadian model is one cited by new Brexit Minister David Davis as a possible blueprint for the UK’s future relationship with the EU once it leaves. Canada’s trade minister Chrystia Freeland, who is due to meet the UK’s new International Trade Secretary Liam Fox later [on Friday], said there had already been some ‘technical exchanges’, with some ‘real details of exactly how CETA works’ shared with the UK.”

Today, The Globe and Mail reports, “[Freeland] said the [new Prime Minister Theresa] May government has reaffirmed it will help with the European Union approval of the Canada-EU trade deal, despite the fact that London is also preparing to leave the political-economic union as a result of last month’s Brexit vote. Britain itself may end up leaving the [CETA] when it quits the EU. Ms. Freeland said she met with Liam Fox, Britain’s new Secretary of State for International Trade, ‘and when I asked him if I could count on his and Britain’s continued support for CETA, he told me Britain would not just be supporting CETA, Britain would be pushing for CETA at the EU table.'”

That article adds, “The federal government has been very firm in insisting that CETA – or at least about 90 per cent of it – can take effect in 2017, despite Brexit and the need to have all 28 member member parliaments ratify the agreement.” This could only be achieved through the highly controversial means of ‘provisional application’.

A few points to raise given this news:

1- Our British allies have raised the concern that the United Kingdom will be negotiating its own “free trade” deals post-Brexit that will be as corporate-friendly and as anti-democratic as CETA. The news report that Freeland is talking with Fox about CETA – with its so-called “investment protection” provisions – as a blueprint for a UK-EU-Canada deal adds to that concern.

2- A post-graduate law student at Queen Mary University, London has written, “If the UK does not withdraw from the EU until after CETA has been ratified then Art. 30.9(2) of CETA will apply. This provides that Chapter 8 [the Investment Tribunal chapter] will apply for 20 years after the date at which the Agreement is terminated in respect of all investments made while it was in effect. As such, in this case, the UK will be subject to Chapter 8 for 20 years after it officially leaves the EU.”

3- Lawyers at ClientEarth have stated, “The [European] Commission’s proposal on provisional application of the Canada-EU trade agreement (CETA) violates EU law. The EU can only provisionally apply those parts of the international agreement over which it has exclusive powers. However … the Commission is seeking to provisionally apply CETA in its entirety. This violates the founding treaties of the EU.” Our German allies Mehr Demokratie (More Democracy) are preparing a legal challenge against provisional application because they believe it would violate the German constitution.

4- Freeland continues to press for the ratification of CETA even though she has no assessment of the merits of the deal absent the UK, which is the second largest economy in the EU, Canada’s largest trading partner, and represents about 10 per cent of the beef market Canada sought to gain with this deal. Even former Conservative trade minister Ed Fast, who oversaw the CETA negotiations and who wants Freeland to succeed in ratifying the deal, says a study is needed. The Canadian Press 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.”

5- While Freeland recently participated in the Pride parade in Toronto, Fox has voted against same-sex marriage and gay adoption rights. Fox has stated that gay marriage is “absurd”, “divisive”, “smacks of a form of social engineering” and that he “disagrees” that it’s “simply a matter of equal rights”.

In terms of a possible timeline, it is believed that the Council of the European Union could vote on the provisional application of CETA anytime between August and October 18, that Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau is scheduled to sign CETA at a Canada-EU summit in Brussels on October 27-28, and that the European Parliament could vote on the ratification of CETA on December 13-15.

For recent blogs on this developing story, please see Does the Canadian trade minister support the provisional application of CETA?, Canada refuses to renegotiate CETA despite Brexit vote and CETA appears to be on hold, Council of Canadians calls for new study of the deal.