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Irish opposition to investment court system could be fatal to CETA

While media attention was given to the colourful socks worn by the prime ministers, CETA remains a controversial issue in Ireland.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with the Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) Leo Varadkar on July 4 to push for the provisional implementation of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

The Globe and Mail reports, “A surge of Irish opposition to the deal is coalescing even as the country’s newly minted and popular Prime Minister seeks to put down worries over a bad deal. …This week, a variety of Irish groups representing trade unions, small businesses, farmers and environmentalists came out against the deal and urged the Irish parliament not to ratify it. The largest opposition party has also tempered its support for CETA and last fall, the country’s Senate narrowly passed a motion against the adoption of CETA.”

The article highlights, “The opposition here could be fatal to CETA… Under EU rules, all of the 28 EU member states must ratify the agreement along with several regional legislatures. Ireland has yet to indicate when it will move to ratify the deal, but if it doesn’t pass through parliament here, CETA can’t go forward anywhere.”

The Globe and Mail news report focuses on concerns about the ‘investment protection’ provisions in CETA:

“Mr. Trudeau had been counting on Ireland as an early adopter. But CETA has run into the same problems in this country as it has in many other parts of Europe; in particular, there has been growing concern about the dispute-resolution system. The agreement creates a new tribunal called the Investment Court System, which consists of a panel of judges that would settle disputes. Canada and the EU have hailed the ICS as a breakthrough in trade relations and the EU has hoped that it would lead to the creation of an international trade court. However, critics say the ICS gives too much power to foreign companies, which can sue governments if they change policies that hurt company operations. Opponents say that limits governments’ ability to protect the environment, worker rights and health care. And some argue the ICS is a dangerous move toward private courts and away from domestic legal systems. Belgium has challenged the ICS at the European Court of Justice and politicians in several countries, including France and Britain, have questioned the system.”

While Varadkar supports CETA, his Fine Gael party holds just 50 seats in the 158-seat Dáil Éireann (Assembly of Ireland) and must rely on a coalition with 7 Independent Teachta Dála (members) as well as an agreement that the 44 Fianna Fáil members of the Dáil Éireann will abstain on non-confidence votes.

CETA was to have been provisionally implemented by July 1, but European concerns about procurement (“necessary changes” to provincial laws in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia that haven’t happened yet), agricultural quotas (how import licences for cheeses are granted in Canada), and pharmaceutical patents (the European drug industry doesn’t want CETA implemented until Canada consults on its promise to end dual-track litigation, which would mean brand-name pharmaceutical companies could not longer sue generics multiple times on the same patents) has delayed that.

There is speculation that the provisional application of CETA could now be delayed until sometime in 2018.