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CETA will likely be signed, but it will also implode

On Tuesday August 5, the Harper government announced – via a brief news release, a teleconference call, and strangely an online video – that negotiators had finalized the 1,500-page text of a Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

At this point, the text has reportedly been sent to Canadian provincial governments and the European Union member states for initial feedback to be submitted over the next few weeks. It is also being reported by various news sources that the agreement will be signed in late September (likely September 25) in Ottawa and the text may be released to the public at that time (though there are clearer indications that this is not the case and that the text will not be released for at least several more months after a “legal scrubbing” or perhaps even longer).

After the ceremony on September 25, the ratification process – including translation of the 42 chapters and 48 annexes of the deal into 23 languages – could take up to two years or more. That process – again according to various news reports – involves ratification by the 10 provincial legislatures (and possibly the three territorial legislatures), the 751-member European Parliament, the EU’s 28 member states, and the European Commission. Implementation of the deal is scheduled for mid-2016.

And while the text may have been finalized, Matthew Kronby, Canada’s lead lawyer in the negotiations until 2012, says, “If Germany is really adamant about this [revising the investor-state provision], as the most important and economically powerful member of the European Union, their views would be given serious consideration.”

Both the NDP and Liberals have made public statements supportive of the deal, but both parties are also seeking details.

The NDP says, “The NDP has long maintained that Canada should have deeper economic relations with the European Union – democratic countries with some of the highest environmental and labour standards in the world…. The question Canadians are now asking is whether Conservatives negotiated a good deal for Canada? Unfortunately, Conservatives have kept Parliament and Canadians in the dark throughout the negotiations with talks conducted in secret and without any transparency.”

And the Liberals say, “We have been supportive of the deal from the start. Canada is a small country. The world economy is huge. And if we want our middle class to be prosperous – which is the core of our agenda – having trade deals with the world is absolutely essential…. It’s important to say this is a great step, but also we really need to start seeing some details. At some point though we need to see what it is we’re actually supporting.”

This support comes despite the evident inclusion of the highly controversial investor-state dispute settlement mechanism in the deal and intellectual property rules that would increase the cost of pharmaceutical drugs by billions of dollars for provincial governments across the country.

With respect to investor-state, mainstream media coverage has mostly downplayed the concerns expressed by the German government. The Globe and Mail’s Barrie McKenna writes the objections raised by Germany’s ambassador to Canada “seem a bit late in the game, and a tad disingenuous.” Why? According to McKenna, “Germany is, after all, one of the world’s staunchest advocates of strong investor rights virtually everywhere else in the world,” “Germany [has] bilateral investment treaties with 136 countries,” Canada had to work to get Germany to agree to a more “balanced” investor-state provision, and that likely “Germany is casting a wary eye at the U.S., where there is a more litigious business culture and a lot more two-way investment at stake.”

Jason Langrish, the executive director of the Canada Europe Roundtable for Business, explains away Germany’s concerns by writing, “the primary culprit is public opinion as it pertains to EU negotiations with the United States on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement (TTIP).” He adds, “Chancellor Angela Merkel, presiding over a coalition government and acutely aware of her electorate’s suspicion of the U.S., is faced with a dilemma. If she doesn’t show adequate concern, she will be vulnerable to accusations that her government is agreeing to a bill of corporate rights.” And after all, Langrish says, “In the 20 years the investor-state mechanism has been a feature of NAFTA, Canada has had to pay out just over $150-million under the provision. In the same period, the stock of NAFTA-generated, foreign, direct investment in the country has more than quadrupled, from $90-billion to almost $400-billion.” That’s a fair trade to Mr. Langrish.

Various news reports – including in the Globe and Mail, the Ottawa Citizen, the Toronto Star and the CBC – note Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow saying, “Harper has to hold his horses. This is very early in a complicated and long process. This hasn’t even gone to the European Council for signature. The whole process could take years and there are many opportunities along the way for the deal to implode, as has happened before. While we support trade with Europe, this deal is a no-go. Companies will be given carte blanche to sue countries for laws they don’t like.”

For more on the next steps in the Council of Canadians campaign to make CETA “implode”, please click here.