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UPDATE: Where does the UK stand on CETA?

This past May, Conservative leader David Cameron became the British prime minister in a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats. Where does this UK government stand on the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA)?

1- Postmedia News reported in late-December on the “three-month delay in the presentation of formal offers by each side” in the Canada-EU CETA talks. “Brussels-based trade analyst Hosuk Lee-Makiyama said the delay is due in part to Britain’s new coalition government, dominated by Prime Minister David Cameron’s Euro-skeptic Conservatives. ‘They’re basically obstructing and trying to slow things down’ said Lee-Makiyama, adding negotiators are ‘getting nowhere on this and just going in circles’. London’s huge financial services sector has been traditionally open to foreign investment. But Lee-Makiyama said the impact of the global recession on the industry — combined with Tory skepticism toward the EU and hostile British attitudes toward immigration — are creating fears it will be difficult to sell politically a trade deal that implies an influx of foreign professionals to Britain. …The (immigration) concern is less about Canada and more about fear that a liberal Canada-EU deal will set a precedent for a possible future deal with a much larger trading partner, like the U.S.”

2- What’s Euroscepticism? It is a general term used to describe criticism of the European Union and opposition to the process of European integration. It relates to the belief that European integration weakens the nation state. A poll in 2009 found that support for membership in the EU was among the lowest in the United Kingdom. Only 29 percent of respondents in the UK thought membership in the European Union was a good thing.

3- The Conservative election platform promised that a Conservative government would, “Extend government procurement to small and medium-sized businesses by cutting administrative requirements, with the aim of seeing 25 per cent of government contracts go to SMEs (small and medium enterprises).” And that they would, “Use public procurement to strengthen the link between food grown in our fields and the meals served in our schools and hospitals.” Given the primary demand of European negotiators in the Canada-EU CETA talks is the ‘opening’ of procurement and restricting this type of public policy framework for government procurement, it’s hard to imagine how the Conservatives would be able to deliver on this promise. We have already seen the European Union express its opposition to the Ontario Green Energy Act given its local content rules.

4- On January 14, the UK Tar Sands Network demanded a meeting with British trade minister Stephen Green because, “they are concerned that trade negotiations between the European Union and Canada, due to start in Brussels on Monday, will dramatically boost Europe’s involvement in the Canadian tar sands, the most destructive project on earth.” The group held a peaceful protest inside the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (a ministerial department that has responsibility for trade). As a result, the UK trade minister has agreed to meet with them to discuss this issue.

5- The Council of Canadians has met twice now with Catherine Bearder, a British MEP. She is a Liberal Democrat (which is a partner in the Cameron coalition government in the UK) and she is with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (which hold 85 seats in the European Parliament). She has raised questions in the European Parliament and repeatedly expressed concerns about CETA and the tar sands. In April she posed these questions in the European Parliament: 1) “How does the Commission propose that trade relations between the EU and Canada should in no way promote or facilitate the development of this highly polluting industry?” and, 2) “Can the Commission confirm that the EU-Canada FTA will cover trade in this type of oil and how does the Commission justify this in the light of EU environmental priorities?”

The response from the European Commission was as follows, “As to whether the EU Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) will cover trade in this type of oil, there is of course no such agreement as yet. Nothing can, therefore, be confirmed. This applies to any question concerning oil from Canada’s oil sands. In a future perspective, the Commission does not envisage that the CETA would change the conditions for any trade in oil derived from oil sands between the EU and Canada. The customs duty on oil in the EU is already set at 0, thus tariff liberalisation under CETA would have no effect on such trade. As to any future regulations concerning trade in oil and oil products in the EU, the CETA will not affect the EU’s ability to enact and implement any such regulations that would be in compliance with the EU’s existing international obligations. In particular, the EU will retain the ability to regulate the trade and/or use of any product for legitimate purposes, in a non-discriminatory manner and based on scientific evidence. Canada has raised the question of the future treatment of oil and oil products derived from oil sands, and the Commission has explained the situation along the lines mentioned above.” More at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getAllAnswers.do?reference=P-2010-2778&language=EN.

The United Kingdom has 72 representatives (Members of the European Parliament) in the 736-member European Parliament. In the 2009 election, the Conservatives elected 25 members, the Liberal Democrats 11, Labour 13, and the Greens 2.

It is expected that Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow will meet with the new UK High Commissioner to Canada Andrew Pocock when she gives an address on our concerns about CETA to the EU ambassadors to Canada on May 18 in Ottawa.