There have been rumours for the past week that Canada and the European Commission (the executive body of the European Union which is responsible for negotiating trade deals on behalf of the EU) were set to reach "technical finalization" of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) this week, ahead of a May 8 meeting in Brussels of the Foreign Affairs Council (Trade). Indications are now that such speculation may prove premature.
iPolitics reported last week, "The text of the Canada-EU trade agreement is expected to be finalized May 7, according to a letter posted on a Dutch government website yesterday. Written by Dutch Trade Minister Lilianne Ploumen, it suggests Trade Minister Ed Fast and EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht could sign off on the deal that day. While an agreement-in-principle was reached in October, Ploumen says in the letter that final technical negotiations related to trade in services, investment and agricultural market access have been ongoing. They now appear to be just about concluded."
But the finalization of the deal now seems in doubt, with reports coming from Europe that a final deal may not be presented to the Council after all. Earlier today, European Green Party spokesperson Reinhard Bütikofer tweeted, "There will be no #initialling of #CETA tomorrow on margins of #OECD meeting between De #Gucht and Ed Fast, the #Canadian minister for trade." Other sources in Europe suggest that differences between the European Commission and the European Council are behind the delay, including questions about where 'competence' related to the controversial investor-state dispute settlement process lies.
These developments come in the context of growing and widespread opposition to the inclusion of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) in agreements being negotiated by the EU, which has forced the European Commission to halt negotiations on ISDS as part of TTIP negotiations with the US while it conducts a three-month-long online consultation on ISDS. The Council of Canadians thinks a similar discussion should be happening in Canada.
It also comes in the midst of elections to select a new European Parliament, which will be held May 22-25. The elections will also mean new faces at the European Commission.
Meanwhile, on this side of the Atlantic, poll results released by UPS Canada yesterday indicate Canadian business has a tepid view of the benefits of CETA, despite major efforts by the Harper government to sell the deal across the country. While "84 per cent [of Canadian businesses polled] believe that trade diversification beyond North America is necessary ... less than 25 per cent of businesses in Canada strongly support CETA, with another 44 per cent showing only lukewarm support."
While the next couple of days will reveal which of the rumours on CETA's finalization proves to be true, it's important to understand that even the reaching of a final agreement on the text is just the beginning of a months-long or years-long ratification process in both Canada and Europe, where the realities of the impacts of corporate rights pacts like CETA are facing ever-greater scrutiny and growing opposition.