#CETA: zombie trade deal is no recipe for #Brexit
Today the Prime Minister of Canada flew into Brussels to sign the EU-Canada so-called trade agreement known as CETA – the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement – with the European Union. For the past fortnight, the signing had been held up by the French speaking regional parliament of Belgium in Wallonia but it eventually gave in to the pressure being applied. Trade diplomats and politicians have expressed relief that the deal has been signed. But opponents of the deal – including the Canadian and European trade union movements – have not finished with CETA. Justin Trudeau and his European counterparts may have won the battle, but the war is not going well.
The hurdles that still need to be overcome – any one of which could yet derail the deal – include a crucial vote in the European Parliament, the German constitutional court (generally held to have found in favour of CETA, although this is not quite true), and then votes in every EU member state’s parliament, especially on the notorious system to protect foreign investors which cannot be implemented even provisionally until everyone has agreed. Unions, environmental campaigners and consumer organisations will mobilise at every stage to defeat the deal, or prevent parts of it from coming into effect.
At heart is still the detail of the deal: the absence of enforceable labour, consumer and environmental standards; the privileged enforcement regime for foreign investors known in trade jargon as ISDS, but called the Investor Court System (ICS) in this deal; and the impact on public services. Throughout, advocates of the deal have argued that it will create jobs and wealth, and won’t be bad for public services or workers’ rights. Fewer and fewer people believe them, and the investor protection regime has now come under sustained attack including from high profile economists like Financial Times columnist Wolfgang Munchau who recently wrote that “some aspects of the deals, like investor tribunals, are undemocratic and at odds with European constitutional principles” and Jeffrey D Sachs.
But the other problem facing so-called trade deals like CETA is that they fail to deliver the jobs and wealth to the mass of the people affected, and can often make inequality worse. They are the last gasp of neo-liberal globalisation, delivering foreign investors the prospect of enormous gains in return for slight reductions in overall tariffs. Supporters have made unrealistic promises about the average benefit to household budgets, but most of the benefits will accrue to those who are already rich, and most of the pain will be felt by those most vulnerable to trade shocks – especially those living in regions facing long-term industrial decline (such as Wallonia).
While some trade unions have sought to achieve reforms to the deal, politicians have consistently reiterated that no such changes are possible. All we have been offered is further ‘explanations’ and ‘reassurances’ about how the deal poses no threat. Meanwhile, as trade unions are offered reviews and monitoring, foreign investors still get access to special courts that can deliver them multi-million dollar compensation.
Wallonia showed that people are getting restless, as did the popular demonstrations across Austria, Belgium and Germany in September. UK trade minister Liam Fox was dragged before the European Scrutiny Committee to apologise for inadequate debate in the UK parliament on the deal.
But the TUC is also concerned at suggestions that CETA is a model for the sort of deal the UK should negotiate with the EU after Brexit. As Frances O’Grady said when the Wallonian Parliament was refusing to sign the agreement:
“Britain will need a trade deal with the EU after Brexit, and it mustn’t follow the failed Canadian model. We need a new approach to trade that creates good jobs and protects public services and workers’ rights. Not one that just prioritises the needs of big business.
“This is only possible if trade unions are meaningfully involved in negotiations from the start. Politicians should listen more to working people and less to corporate lobbyists.”
By the time the deal comes before the European Parliament, or the House of Commons, we will have raised the temperature. And all of this could have been avoided. As the ETUC-CLC joint statement says:
“this is the result of a negotiation process that was conducted in secrecy. We believe that this situation could have been avoided if the negotiating parties had consulted trade unions and civil society in a serious way and made negotiations more transparent right from the beginning.”