Skip to content

Water still on the table in CETA; it’s up to the provinces, says Canada’s lead negotiator

A briefing on Friday with Canada’s lead CETA negotiator, Steve Verheul, revealed the EU still wants water delivery and treatment included in the agreement’s services chapter. When we asked for the federal government’s opinion of this request, Verheul said it was entirely up to the provinces and territories how far they want to go. Water services were excluded from NAFTA and past Canadian trade deals. The active involvement of the provinces and territories, many of them looking to increase the role of the private sector in water treatment and technology, creates a dangerous new dynamic that may encourage the full liberalization of water services. “I can’t tell you where the provinces are at but they’re actively considering it,” said Verheul during the briefing, the fifth since CETA negotiations began a year ago.

The CETA draft is now “quite well advanced,” said Verheul, with four or five texts finished and core chapters on services and procurement nearing completion. Difficult issues are being forced to the sixth and seventh negotiating rounds, including autos, fish, agriculture and differences in provincial standards. The next “turning point,” said Verheul, will be the exchange of offers on services, investment and procurement, which is expected in the next few months. The EU and Canadian negotiating teams have been playing footsie up to now, trying to give signals to each other on how far everyone’s willing to go.

Despite stated progress, Verheul implied the provincial offers in procurement, investment and services will not satisfy EU negotiators. Canada is also having trouble with regulatory standards and “potential barriers to trade” in the EU, which likely refers to food safety and environmental standards, though “we’ve made progress on regulatory cooperation,” said Verheul, or getting regulators talking to each other prior to rules being set.

But there was little progress on geographical indications, a difficult issue for Canada to grasp. The North American system for protecting the names of products (ex. Parma Ham, Vino Verde) is privately enforced through trade marks whereas it is a government responsibility in the EU. The EU wants Canada to adopt its model for protecting geographic indications and other types of intellectual property. For example, as reported in the National Post last week, the EU wants Canada to further undermine the Canadian generic drug industry by extending patent and data protection terms. This will increase the price of generics in Canada and reduce their availability.

The EU is also looking to change the practices of provincial and territorial liquor boards that favour Canadian wine, and to limit the scope of any cultural exception in CETA because of commercial interests in books, publishing, distribution and other areas that falls into the protected cultural category in Canadian law.


Verheul explained that Canadian and European Union negotiators will have regular video conferences between now and the next negotiating round in Brussels in the third week of January. There will be a trip to Brussels in November or December, and a stock-taking exercise at the ministerial level before the end of the year. This is a chance for political leaders to assess progress to date and map out next steps, said Verheul.

The chief negotiator also explained there is increased activity from EU groups coming to Canada to study the deal and vice versa. Parliament’s international trade committee will head to Europe November 21 to meet with counterparts in the EU parliament and ‘stakeholders’ in the CETA negotiations. The European Economic and Social Committee, a bridge between EU government and civil society, is coming to Canada in mid-November to meet with various groups, including labour and environmental groups opposed to CETA.

This week, an EU parliamentary committee devoted to Canada-EU relations will visit the tar sands at the invitation of the Alberta government and will then fly to Ottawa to meet Canadian CETA negotiators and the Canada-Europe Roundtable for Business. And the EU will also be conducting, through a private company, a sustainability impact assessment in mid-December. The contractor will be looking to meet with various groups in Canada, said Verheul.

It begs the question: why isn’t Canada doing its own impact assessment? And as CAW economist Jim Stanford asked during a CCPA conference in Ottawa last week, why did Canada rely entirely on European economists when assessing the possible gains from a free trade pact with the EU?


On top of water issues, the Council of Canadians asked Verheul about the proposed energy chapter (EU has yet to suggest anything), the possibility that the untendered subway contract in Montreal killed CETA (it hasn’t had an impact), the ongoing controversy around the seal ban (it wasn’t mentioned during the fifth round of talks), and the impact of last week’s devastating CCPA report (economists have different points of view, said Verheul in a brushoff).

We will be putting pressure on the provinces and territories not to include water services under any circumstances in their CETA offers, as well as to exclude municipal procurement completely as requested by the Union of British Columbia Municipalities. You can help convince your own municipality why it needs to be excluded by using our recent Action Alert. But above that we must continue to call for a halt in negotiations while the Harper government seeks an informed public mandate to continue.