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EU parliament draws red lines through Canada-EU free trade talks

CETA negotiations “have been driven by major European and Canadian multinationals which want market access to vital public services so that they can profit at the expense of workers and consumers,” said Paul Murphy, GUE (United Left) member of the European Parliament, during a debate yesterday on the Canada-EU free trade negotiations. CETA, he said, “will be a charter for privatization, particularly in terms of water, telecommunications and electricity.” You can watch his full speech in the video above.

While Murphy’s comments were among the strongest against the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), members from virtually all political groups stood to share their concerns with how CETA would affect tar sands regulation and EU environmental policy, the ability of Canada to produce and export generic drugs, and the threat to public services from Canada’s approach to listing services to be bound by the agreement’s investment conditions. In fact, many drew red lines they would not cross in order to pass a free trade deal with Canada, possibly some time next year.

To watch the full debate in any one of 23 languages, click here.

One of the conditions MEPs are calling for is that Canada revoke its WTO challenge to the EU ban on Canadian seal products. Freida Brepoels, a Green from Belgium, asked the European Commission not to forget that the majority of parliamentarians support the ban. She said it is having the desired effect of crippling the market for seal skins, but that it’s regrettable Canada is using the WTO to pressure the EU to back down. Brepoels was one of many MEPs from several political groups to say they will not support the CETA agreement while Canada is challenging the EU at the WTO.

Roithová Zuzana of the conservative European People’s Party said she would not be able to support CETA either, but her red line was Canada’s visa requirements on Czech travellers.

David Martin, of the Socialists and Democrats, the largest of the opposition parties, said his group can see benefits to CETA but that it could not support the deal if the EU’s right to use the Fuel Quality Directive to inhibit the use of tar sands is compromised. Second, he said he cannot accept the Commission’s view that the seal ban and CETA are separate when they are “linked in the eyes of voters and I will not vote on CETA with [the Canadian WTO challenge] in place.”

Furthermore, in a very interesting development, Martin said CETA must not put limits on Canada’s ability to export generic drugs to developing countries. We don’t do a lot of this, but popular legislation tabled in Canada during the last parliament, then killed by Harper in the Senate, would have encouraged exports of Canadian-made generic drugs to treat AIDS, tuberculosis, etc. “Let’s not bow to the pharmaceutical lobby,” said Martin, in a sign of what may become a major sticking point frustrating the EU’s attempts to fundamentally re-write Canadian copyright and drug patent rules.

Helmut Scholz, another GUE member from Germany, asked why two developed countries are forging an investment treaty in CETA that threatens public services. And Keith Taylor, a Green from the UK, asked the European Commission to back off from its attack on Ontario’s Green Energy Act. The Greens do not feel that procurement for social or environmental purposes by municipalities or provinces should be compromised by CETA.

What was impressive about the debate in EU parliament yesterday was that right and left seemed to agree that the EU’s agricultural and environmental policies should not be undermined. Wałęsa Jarosław Leszek of the EPP (Christian Democrats) told parliament it should not just make sure there is a strong sustainable development chapter but that issues such as the extraction of asbestos in Canada and the seal hunt must be addressed, and that differences in the regulation of genetically modified crops should be respected.

Kriton Arsenis, a Greek MEP for the Socialists and Democrats, said pointedly that tar sands are “not a tiny detail” in the CETA negotiations, as the Commission contends. They’re the reason why another agreement, the Kyoto protocol, is not being respected by Canada. Arsenis said that through CETA, Canada is fighting for free trade and a liberalized investment status for tar sands. He expressed disbelief that the sustainability impact assessment the EU Commission paid for does not assess the impact that this liberalization of tar sands exploitation will have on the environment, forests and the health of Indigenous communities. This will make it difficult for the EU parliament to green light any final deal with Canada, he concluded.

So all in all, not a pretty site for the Harper government, which has made passing CETA a cornerstone not just of its trade agenda but its broader economic policy. Last week, in his first speech as new trade minister, Ed Fast launched a “blistering attack” against the NDP for daring to question the Conservative vision for trade expansion. From watching the EU parliament discussing CETA yesterday, it’s possible the NDP message will resonate much better in Europe.

There is a vote tomorrow (Wednesday) in the EU parliament on a resolution from the trade committee which puts some of these red lines discussed above into writing. Watch this space for another update this week.