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European, Canadian labour opposes investor-state arbitration, municipal procurement restrictions in CETA

The European Trade Union Confederation and Canadian Labour Congress issued a joint statement today on the Canada-EU free trade negotiations (CETA), which continue this week in Brussels, Belgium.

“Negotiators have claimed that their work will be finalised in the coming days and weeks, but unions on both sides of the Atlantic have made it clear that any agreement is only acceptable if based on a high standard, setting a benchmark for future agreements worldwide, and certainly not undermining existing conditions in relation to labour rights, public policy space and the provision of public services,” says a press statement from the ETUC.

The joint declaration emphasizes three conditions that should be met if CETA is concluded. Notably the unions oppose the inclusion of an investor-state dispute settlement process like the one in NAFTA’s notorious Chapter 11, which is used more and more these days to challenge non-discriminatory, non-trade distorting government decisions, legislation and other environmental or public health measures.

“It is imperative,” they state, “that the failings of the NAFTA are not replicated, let alone aggravated, by any future CETA. This applies to investor rights in the first instance. We oppose the inclusion of an investor-state arbitration mechanism in the agreement. We concur with the European Parliament’s assessment that ‘a state to state dispute settlement mechanism and the use of local judicial remedies are the most appropriate tools to address investment disputes’.”

The unions also insist that CETA “should not include any commitment to open or liberalize public procurement at the subnational level, including at the municipal level. Local governments should have a clear and permanent exemption from the CETA so they can use public money in support of sustainable, local, economic development.”

Finally, the declaration calls for a democratic process before CETA can be ratified. “The public has the right to full disclosure, along with the right to meaningful and informed input into the negotiations,” say the unions.