If CETA goes through, TTIP might not matter: Say no to CETA
On Thursday, trade negotiators from the 28 EU member states met in Brussels to discuss the final stages of the EU-Canada free trade agreement known as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). Most public debate currently is about the potentially much larger Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the USA, but if CETA is implemented, most of the worries people have about TTIP will already have come to pass. That’s why, the week before TUC Congress, the General Council agreed to oppose CETA, and lobby MPs and MEPs to vote against the deal.
The CETA deal has already been “agreed” several times, and without anyone in Westminster or the European Parliament casting a vote. The meeting on Thursday was the last time officials plan to look at the agreement, which will be ‘initialled’ at an EU-Canada summit in Ottawa at the end of September, and then handed to the European Commission’s translation and legal services. It will come before Trade Ministers such as the UK’s Vince Cable at an EU Trade Council meeting at the end of October, and eventually will be put before the European Parliament and national parliaments (as well as the Canadian provincial legislatures and national parliament.) But it is very unlikely that the deal will be subject to further amendment.
That makes the text which was leaked in August pretty much the final version of the deal, and it contains a lot that is worrying for trade unionists. TUC concerns were set out in a letter from Frances O’Grady to Vince Cable in March, and none of them have been addressed:
- there are Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions which give an expansive definition of ‘fair and equitable treatment’ which would empower tribunals to consider whether a domestic policy frustrated the investor’s ‘legitimate expectation’ (as well as actual losses) when deciding whether to order taxpayer compensation. CETA also contains a broad definition of ‘indirect expropriation’ that invites tribunal decisions against policies on the basis that they adversely affect a company’s future profits;
- there is a ’negative list’ approach to liberalisation commitments, which means that only specific listed services will be safeguarded from further liberalisation. This opens the door for Canadian investors to make inroads into European public services – which ISDS could then lock in – and vice versa; and
- the trade and labour chapter commits the EU and Canada to uphold core labour standards, and follows the approach taken in the EU’s free trade agreements with Korea and Colombia/Peru, whereby advisory groups are established in the EU and Canada to ‘provide views or advice’ on whether the labour chapter is being upheld. These groups would have equal numbers of representatives from trade unions, employer, civil society and business groups. But it does not contain sanctions if labour standards are violated, and is as weak as any labour chapter in an EU trade deal.
At Congress this week, MEP Judith Kirton-Darling, addressed a fringe meeting on TTIP, but concentrated her remarks on CETA. Judith used to be the European Trade Union Confederation official responsible for trade policy, and now sits on the European Parliament’s international trade committee INTA. She called for a greater public debate on CETA, but warned that:
“we need absolute certainty that the deal will not make our regulations and standards vulnerable to corporate interests. Socialist MEPs have been clear that there is no legitimacy for including Investor-State Dispute Settlement in these agreements. Europeans have made the choice of societies that protect them against sickness and unemployment, guarantee their rights in the workplace and provide them with a wide range of public services.These sovereign choices are not up for discussion in the frame of these trade deals.”
The TUC position is in line with that of the Canadian Labour Congress as decided at its convention in May, where it agreed to ‘fight ratification of the proposed Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) through public education, campaigning and lobbying’. The ETUC have not reached a final position on CETA but have highlighted concern around the inclusion of ISDS and the danger to public services posed by the deal, as well criticising the lack of transparency in the negotiating process.
In addition, the German government has expressed concerns about ISDS provisions in CETA. The German Deputy Economy Minister Stefan Kapferer has stated:
‘The German government does not view as necessary stipulations on investor protection, including on arbitration cases between investors and the state, with states that guarantee a resilient legal system and sufficient legal protection from independent national courts.”
According to press reports, Germany may call for ISDS to be removed from CETA as a condition for ratifying the deal, and the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament have pledged that – with ISDS still in the deal – they will vote against, as will the Greens and the Left.