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SPA talks concluded, while CETA faces delays

CBC reports that Canada and the European Union have concluded negotiations on a Strategic Partnership Agreement.

That news report says, “The SPA is intended to enshrine the EU and Canada’s joint values and strengthen political dialogue and cooperation in a number of areas, including education, transport, energy and the Arctic. In the midst of the crisis in Ukraine as well as talks to boot Russia from the G8, the SPA will also provide channels for Canada and the EU to enhance their foreign policy engagements when it comes to crisis management and security.”

In May 2013, Embassy magazine more fully explained, “Canadian and European officials started negotiating the so-called Strategic Partnership Agreement in 2011 at the EU’s request. The SPA is legally different than CETA, but talks run in parallel. …Its purpose is to establish an all-encompassing framework that would bring all existing sectoral agreements and areas of co-operation the two parties currently share under one roof. It is also meant to update the Canada-EU relationship to reflect the political changes that took place over the last decades, including the EU’s new institutional structures and its expansion to 27 member states.”

In a brief statement yesterday, European Commission President Herman Van Rompuy and European Council President José Manuel Barroso said, “Both sides are now committed to finalising the remaining technical and legal work expeditiously, so that it can be formally concluded as soon as possible.”

But there has been controversy during the SPA negotiations.

The Embassy article noted, “Canada wants to keep trade and human rights separate…” And Liberal Senator Joan Fraser, an opponent of the clause, has said, “The problem is that in the European formula they want to include a clause that would make it possible for the trade agreement to be suspended if the Europeans judge that Canada had engaged in a serious violation of human rights.”

Is the concern that the Europeans might see that Canada does not respect the human right to water and sanitation, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and specifically the right to free, prior and informed consent?

Last year, Council of Canadians trade campaigner Stuart Trew commented in an action alert, “Of all the things holding up a planned Canada–European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, it is truly embarrassing to think that binding language on the importance of human rights should be one of them.”

And yesterday, Trew stated, “The Conservative government should immediately publish the political agreement it has reached with the European Commission on a Strategic Partnership Agreement, which Canadians know absolutely nothing about, says. The Conservative government has been tight-lipped about its European trade deal but has said almost nothing about this political and security side deal. What’s in it, and will Parliament have any opportunity to discuss it before it’s finalized? These are important questions that this announcement just pushes to the side.”

Additionally, with respect to CETA, Postmedia has just reported, “Canadian and European negotiators still face ‘substantive’ and ‘important’ differences five months after Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his EU counterpart announced a ‘historic’ trade breakthrough after years of setbacks, say experts. And one trade official with a major EU member country said a final Canada-EU trade agreement won’t likely be ready until sometime in 2015.”