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CETA debated by EU parliament; concerns raised at trade committee on tar sands, generic drug sector

This Monday, June 6, members of the European Parliament (MEPs) will debate an oral question from Vital Moreira, chair of the EU trade committee, on the Canada-EU free trade negotiations. According to the EU Parliament website, this month’s plenary session in Strasbourg, France may then vote Wednesday on a related CETA resolution from the trade committee. Even if it passes, the resolution (excerpts below) can’t force the European Commission to act any differently. But it will give us a sense of where the European parties and MEPs currently stand with respect to CETA, and what the sticking points are. You should be able to watch Monday’s plenary session online beginning at 11 a.m. EDT.

On Tuesday, May 24, the EU trade committee (INTA) narrowly passed a resolution on the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which included points on investor-state dispute resolution, intellectual property, and what kind of language would best protect public services. The Greens and United Left members on the INTA committee proposed many other amendments that did not make the final text. Both parties voted against this resolution because of it.

Likely to Harper’s great annoyance, the resolution again connects tar sands production and environmental legislation to the CETA negotiations. The INTA committee:

– Reiterates its concern about the impact of the extraction of oil sand on the global environment due to the high level of CO2 emissions during its production process and the threat it poses for local biodiversity; expresses its belief that the CETA negotiations should not affect the EU’s right to legislate in the fuel quality directive nor inhibit the ability of the Canadian authorities to introduce future environmental standards on the extraction of oil sands; encourages both parties to resolve any disagreements amicably and without endangering the CETA negotiations;

The EU’s prized Fuel Quality Directive (FQD), a modest but important piece of legislation aimed at reducing the carbon content in transportation fuels which may consequently ban tar sands-derived fuel from Canada or any other country, is set for a vote in July. That’s the same month Canadian trade negotiators will be in Brussels for an eighth critical round of talks. The Canadian government has been waging an aggressive campaign to undermine the EU fuel legislation, even threatening to pull out of CETA negotiations if it goes ahead. An early July approval of the FQD would either call Harper’s bluff or have very interesting consequences for the Canada-EU trade deal.

Other notable points from the trade committee resolution include (all emphasis mine):

– Considers that the chapter on intellectual property should not negatively affect the production of generic medicines and must respect the TRIPs exceptions for public health;

– Notes that the Commission has chosen a ‘negative list approach’ for the liberalization of services, but considers that this should be seen as a mere exception and not serve as a precedent for future negotiations; considers that the GATS public utilities exemption remains the most appropriate tool to guarantee universal access to public services to citizens;

– Expresses its concern about the continued mining of asbestos in Canada, and its grave consequences on workers’ health; reminds that the EU has banned all use of asbestos and extraction, manufacture and processing of asbestos products; calls on Canada to take similar action in order to improve public health;

– Believes that the Commission’s level of ambition in discussions with Canada should be balanced by an equally ambitious approach to sustainable development, in particular with respect to the level of obligations in labour, the scope of the environment chapter and the way to address Multilateral Environmental Agreement (MEA) issues as well as the enforcement mechanism, and should support and promote initiatives aiming to contribute tackling the climate change, promoting legally binding human rights and social and environmental standards, and promoting corporate social responsibility;

– Notes not without concerns that the Commission proposed to the Council a draft on the modification of the negotiating directives for authorising the Commission to negotiate with Canada on investment without waiting for Parliament to adopt its position on the future EU investment policy in general; calls on the Commission to take fully into account the conclusion of the European Parliament on this subject in its negotiations on investment with Canada; considers that given Canada’s and the EU’s highly developed legal system, a state-to-state dispute settlement mechanism and the use of local judicial remedies are the most appropriate tools to address investment disputes; calls on the Commission to ensure that a potential investor-to-state dispute settlement mechanism would not inhibit future legislation in sensitive policy areas, such as environmental legislation, and is embedded in broader requirements as outlined in Parliament’s resolution on future European international investment policy;

The resolution from the EU trade committee is being debated only two weeks away from an intersessional CETA meeting the week of June 20 during which EU and Canadian trade negotiators will exchange initial provincial and member state offers on investment, procurement and services. Provincial trade ministers will meet for a last time to discuss their offers at a Committee on Internal Trade meeting in PEI this month. We still have time to demand to see those offers before they’re quietly exchanged with the EU. Use our Action Alert to send a letter to your provincial or territorial government today.

I’ll be watching the plenary session Monday and, if possible, Wednesday’s vote, so more on this very soon.