How much does the Canadian government want a trade deal with the EU?
Before the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the USA comes the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada. It has been ‘agreed’ several times, but it’s not over yet. And it’s still seriously deficient in terms of investor protection, public services and workers’ rights.
CETA was originally agreed (a couple of times) between Canada’s conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the European Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht, but both have since left the stage. Liberal Justin Trudeau won Canada’s General Election last autumn, and his Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland recently agreed the deal (again) with European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom. It had been subject to an arcane process known as ‘legal scrubbing’, which in reality meant renegotiation of the investor protection provisions, to address European Parliament concerns about Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) which was replaced by the almost identically bad Investment Court System (ICS).
CETA still needs the approval of the European Parliament and the Canadian Parliament, and some elements of the deal at least will also need to be approved by national Parliaments around the EU. And the renegotiation that led to ISDS being replaced by ICS should provide a clue about how keen the Canadian government is to do a deal, and it should encourage the European Parliament, among others, to push harder at three key elements of the current deal, where what has been agreed is unacceptable.
First, investor protection. The Commission may consider the substitution of ICS for ISDS to meet the European Parliament’s concerns. But it certainly doesn’t meet the concerns expressed by the people of Europe who forced the Commission to come up with the ISDS-lite alternative in the first place. There is no justification for a separate system of justice for private foreign investors, so we’ll be urging MEPs to reject ICS as they previously rejected ISDS.
Second, public services. Even if ICS was removed from the deal, that still wouldn’t be enough to protect public services. The current ‘negative’ list system means that public services have to be explicitly listed to be protected from forced liberalisation. Currently the UK government has inadequately listed public services in the agreement which means that services such as health, transport and education would be left open to forced liberalisation and a ratchet clause that would prevent services from being returned to public control. We are calling for CETA to replace the negative list with a ‘positive’ list where only listed services are opened up to liberalisation – this is the only way to be sure that public services are excluded from the deal..
And third, worker rights. CETA provides that, if either the Canadian government or the European Commission considers workers’ rights have been abused to the extent that the ILO core conventions have been breached, an expert committee can come up with a stiffly worded report. That’s hardly enough to stop workers’ rights being abused. We’d want to see the same sort of language on enforcement that applies, say, to intellectual property rights, and we’d like unions to be able to initiate investigations. You only have to contrast the system provided for foreign investors, with a special court system and billion dollar settlements to see how the workers’ rights chapter falls short!
Because of these deficiencies, the TUC believes that CETA should be rejected, and the European Trade Union Confederation and the Canadian Labour Congress will be calling for MEPs to demand more from the Canadian government in these three areas if it really wants a trade deal.