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Corporate lobbying at heart of EU-India trade negotiations: report

A new report from Brussels-based Corporate Europe Observatory and India FDI Watch on the EU-India free trade negotiations shows how trade policy gets made in Europe, with consequences for the Canada-EU CETA talks. “When it comes to trade policy,” says the report, released this week, “the EU Commission works hand in glove with corporate lobbyists. It has been shown to have developed its overall trade agenda, the Global Europe strategy, in close cooperation with the European employers‘ group BusinessEurope.

“BusinessEurope and other industry groups are regularly invited to exclusive meetings, where they are given access to sensitive information about ongoing trade negotiations – information that is withheld from public interest groups.”

There is also reverse lobbying, the report explains, where the EU Commission helps orchestrate EU-India business summits to make sure the final declarations reinforce the overall objectives of the free trade agreement. We should assume this is also how joint BusinessEurope–Canada-Europe Roundtable for Business summits operate on the sidelines of the annual Canada-EU summits.

In contrast to the cozy business-government relationship in Europe, “it is hard to find evidence of the Commission responding positively to the concerns about trade issues voiced by social, development or environmental groups,” the report continues. “A handful of them participate in the Commission‘s official consultation forum, the ´Civil Society Dialogue‘. There, however, the fundamental direction of the EU‘s trade agenda is not up for discussion.”

A table on page 26 of the report shows how exactly corporate priorities in services, tariff elimination, procurement, intellectual property and access to raw resources have translated into the official position of the EU Commission. These priorities are not so surprisingly almost identical for India and Canada, particularly on IPR, services and procurement.

In a speech in Ottawa this April, BusinessEurope President Jürgen R. Thumann told a mostly business audience “we have high expectations for the CEPA (sic) to set a new benchmark for bilateral economic integration by:

– “securing real market access for goods and procurement
– “ambitious regulatory cooperation- eliminating tariff and non-tariff barriers
– “facilitating investments in new technologies and climate
– “advancing cooperation on raw materials
– “and strengthening intellectual property rights.”

The “world famous Hydro Quebec and Manitoba Hydro” are mentioned as priorities for procurement access. On natural resources, Mr. Thumann said the EU “should consider giving your industry a bigger say in EU regulations that may affect exports to Europe.” That would be a bigger say relative to the EU Parliament or democratically elected member states presumably.

These are challenging negotiations in need of a strong business push, he added:

The EU and Canadian business communities will also have to work hard during this period. They must define the challenges and help the negotiators overcome them… BusinessEurope and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce will stay pro-active to help our governments find their way through complex negotiations.

As the EU business priorities are the same, so are the ignored civil concerns. For example, on services and investment, EU and Indian public responses to the free trade priority of dismantling regulations in the way of EU companies, such as foreign ownership limits on banks, insurance companies, postal services and food retail are much the same as Canadian concerns about CETA. As listed on pg. 26 of the CEO-FDI Watch report:

– Governments need maximum flexibility to limit and regulate foreign investment and services to minimise costs and maximise benefits for their societies and in particular vulnerable groups

– Focus should not be on investment protection, but on fostering positive investor behaviour and promoting long-term sustainable investment

– Obligations not just for state receiving investment, but also for companies and their home states (e.g. relating to social, environmental + labour standards and development)

– No international investor-to-state dispute settlement

The report goes into as much detail on how trade policy is made in India, which Canadians will need to consider as the federal government considers negotiating a CEPA — Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement — with India over the next year. Not surprisingly, the Indian prime minister’s office and Ministry of Commerce and Industry receive almost exclusive input from large industry groups and chambers of commerce.