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CETA text could be finalized by May 7

iPolitics reports, “The text of the Canada-EU trade agreement is expected to be finalized May 7, according to a letter posted on a Dutch government website yesterday. Written by Dutch Trade Minister Lilianne Ploumen, it suggests Trade Minister Ed Fast and EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht could sign off on the deal that day. While an agreement-in-principle was reached in October, Ploumen says in the letter that final technical negotiations related to trade in services, investment and agricultural market access have been ongoing. They now appear to be just about concluded.”

Council of Canadians trade campaigner Scott Harris notes that this letter says the negotiations have entered the final phase and that the expectation is that Fast and De Gucht will agree on the final points on May 7 in advance of a Foreign Affairs Council (Trade) meeting on May 8. 

Harris has also shared the EU Investment Policy web-link which includes the leaked draft Investment chapter as of April 4 and the Investor-State Dispute Settlement text as of April 3. That website also includes a consolidated list of 18 chapters of CETA that have been leaked as of December 2013. This is information that the Council of Canadians has repeatedly called on the Harper government to make available so that a fully informed public debate on CETA can take place.

A Toronto Star article last week had suggested that “Canada and the European Union are still negotiating key aspects of the deal” and that “negotiators have yet to resolve a handful of thorny trade issues and the EU now doesn’t expect the pact to be put in place until late 2015 or early 2016”.

Even if those “thorny” issues have been dealt with and CETA is finalized on May 7, it would still have a lengthy process to go through including “fixing all the legal language, translating the agreement and obtaining approval in Europe and Canada”. And perhaps most significantly, CETA faces the reality of ongoing concerns in Europe over investor-state dispute settlement in the United States-European Union Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which is now being negotiated.

The Toronto Star has reported, “These negotiations appear to have sparked increased concern in Europe over a controversial feature of current trade negotiations — investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms. These measures allow corporations to go before an independent tribunal and sue governments that allegedly discriminate against foreign companies. CETA contains an ISDS clause and any EU-United States agreement is expected to have one as well. But, reflecting complaints by NGOs that corporations are abusing these measures, the European Commission called a temporary halt in ISDS discussions with Washington to hold a public consultation on the measures.” That consultation is expected to end in June.

Both the German Secretary of State in the Ministry of Economy Brigitte Zypries and the French minister for trade Nicole Bricq have stated that an investor-state provision is not needed in TTIP. And if ministers from two powerful countries within the European Union are arguing ISDS not needed in TTIP, it would be difficult to argue it’s needed in CETA. The ratification of CETA will also require the consent of the national legislatures of the 28 member countries of the European Union, though the European Commission may challenge that ‘competence’ with respect to investment.

In terms of a timeline, CETA also faces the reality of the May 22-25 elections to the 751-member European Parliament, which must ratify the agreement. The first plenary sessions of this new Parliament appear to be taking place July 14-17 and September 15-18 in Strasbourg.

Stay tuned!

Photo: Harper and European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso mark the signing of CETA in principle in October 2013.