Does the Canadian trade minister support the provisional application of CETA?


Photo: Canadian trade minister Chrystia Freeland meets with European Union trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom at the G20 trade ministers meeting in Shanghai, China today. Freeland tweets, "With my dear friend @MalmstromEU! We remain committed to #CETA + opportunities it brings for Canada & EU"

Is Canadian trade minister Chrystia Freeland supporting – at today's G20 trade ministers' meeting in Shanghai, China – a possible move toward the provisional application of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA)? Is Canada therefore backing an approach that could be in violation of the German constitution, as well as rushing its ratification at home without proper study?

On July 5, the European Commission agreed to pursue CETA as a "mixed" agreement, meaning the agreement would have to be ratified by the 27 (or 28 if you include the United Kingdom) EU member state national legislatures, as well as 14 regional parliaments. Speculation has suggested that this could take 2 to 5 years to accomplish (if it can be accomplished at all given the growing opposition in the EU to CETA). But the Canadian government has been insisting that the agreement could be largely implemented (90 per cent in place) by early 2017.

How is that possible? The Globe and Mail reports, "That’s because [Freeland] says she expects the Canada-EU trade deal to receive necessary preliminary approval next year from EU legislators, whose jurisdiction includes the vast majority of the agreement." Is "preliminary approval" the same as "provisional application"? It would seem so given the article continues on to highlight, "Once it passes the EU Parliament, a 2017 implementation date would be set and the agreement would go into effect on what is called a provisional basis."

The French newspaper Le Monde has explained that if CETA is deemed to be a "mixed" agreement, the deal could enter into force "provisionally" even before EU member state parliaments vote on it. It notes, "If EU ministers agreed at the signing of the CETA on its provisional application, it could come into effect the following month. ...This means that even if MEPs rejected and buried CETA at the solemn vote expected in the second half of 2016, the arbitration mechanism in it, though criticized for the threat it poses to the right of governments to regulate, could still be applied for three years."

This possibility would also seem to be confirmed by a media release issued by the European Commission after it agreed to CETA being a "mixed" agreement. That release on July 5 stated, "Following a decision by the Council, it will be possible to provisionally apply CETA."

Radio Canada International has quoted Freeland saying the decision by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker to agree to CETA being a "mixed" agreement “was anticipated and will keep CETA on track" In addition, the Wall Street Journal has quoted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying, "[The commission’s new approach to ratification] is not necessarily bad. It is a stage that we expected to happen.” What do they mean by these comments? Is it a tacit acknowledgement that while national parliaments can vote on the deal it will be implemented before those votes?

Freeland has also made it clear that CETA will be on the agenda of today's G20 trade ministers' meeting in Shanghai.

The Financial Post has reported that Freeland says this meeting is "a good and important opportunity for me to work on pressing ahead on CETA following the presentation of the agreement by the (European) Commission to the national governments on Tuesday [July 5]. ...I’ll have a number of meetings with European counterparts — including, probably France, the Netherlands, Spain and the U.K. The next planned stages of CETA (are) the presentation of the agreement by the commission to the nation states, and now it’s important for me to find out where the next steps will be from these member states."

Freeland will be discussing CETA today with EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, the German Minister of Economic Affairs Sigmar Gabriel, French trade minister Mathias Fekl, and the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz.

The Council of Canadians stands with our German allies Mehr Demokratie (More Democracy) on the matter of provisional application of CETA. Their spokesperson Roman Huber has commented, "It would be a democratic scandal to circumvent parliaments. We think that this [agreement] is against the German constitution and therefore we are preparing a legal challenge against provisional application and against certain contents of CETA which would endanger democracy."

We are also calling for Prime Minister Trudeau to postpone his scheduled trip to Brussels on October 27 to sign CETA and to instead order a study of the deal - as highlighted in this blog - given Brexit removes the EU's second largest economy and Canada's largest European trading partner from CETA.

Even the former Conservative trade minister Ed Fast, who oversaw the CETA negotiations and who wants Freeland to succeed in ratifying the deal, agrees with us! The Canadian Press now reports, "Only a detailed study, he said, can determine whether Britain’s absence from the trade grouping undermines concessions Canada made in order to win greater access for goods and services in the larger EU bloc."

For more on our campaign to stop CETA, please click here.