New declaration shows why countries must say NO to CETA deal
Yesterday an add-on to the CETA EU-Canada trade agreement proposed by the European Commission and the Canadian government (titled a ‘joint interpretive declaration’) was leaked.
Trade ministers from EU countries will be asked to vote on CETA in just over a week on October 18 so the purpose of the declaration is to convince countries and concerned constituencies – of which trade unions are a large part – that CETA won’t threaten public services, labour standards, the environment or state sovereignty.
Recently the German SPD party said they could only support an agreement that contained adequate protection for these areas while Austria, Belgium and Ireland have indicated they may oppose the agreement partly due to concerns about these areas.
Unfortunately the UK government has been one of the most vocal supporters of CETA, a fact affirmed this week in trade secretary Liam Fox’s speech at the Conservative conference. Particularly worrying in the context of Brexit has been the suggestion by Brexit secretary David Davis that CETA could be a possible model for a future EU-UK trade deal.
There were questions even before the declaration was released whether any side document added to a trade agreement carries any legal weight. This declaration is unlikely to (as Greenpeace as well as others have been quick to note) and falls far short of the kind of text needed to change CETA to provide adequate protection for workers and society.
Last month, the TUC wrote to the trade secretary Liam Fox calling on him to oppose CETA and we will be writing to him again to make clear that this declaration reinforces the fact that CETA is an unacceptable as a model for a future EU-UK trade deal.
Here’s four areas where the declaration fails to make necessary changes to CETA and why countries must vote no to CETA on October 18:
- Public services
What change to CETA is needed: a full exclusion for public services from the agreement – suggested wording for this has been provided in a report produced by EPSU and AK.
What the declaration gives us: a statement that CETA won’t prevent governments from regulating or renationalising public services. This doesn’t change the fact that a number of public services continue to be listed in the agreement which means they will be exposed to liberalisation commitments through the deal. Any action by the government to regulate or change the funding of these services may result in our government being challenged for breaching their commitments under CETA.
As we’ve said before this (combined with the Investment Court System discussed below) is likely to create a ‘chilling effect’ where governments don’t introduce certain policies and choose not renationalise public services for feat of being challenged for breaching trade agreements.
- Investment protection
What change to CETA is needed: all special courts for foreign investors taken out.
What the declaration gives us: a statement that confidently claims ‘CETA won’t result in foreign investors being treated more favourably than domestic investors.’ However, this is impossible to square with the fact that CETA contains the Investment Court System which is a special court system expressly designed to give foreign investors more rights than domestic investors to sue governments if they act or regulate in a way that can be interpreted as ‘indirectly expropriating’ their investment.
We know from previous experiences that indirect expropriation could mean a government increasing the minimum wage or preventing water companies to dump toxic waste in water supplies. The only potential useful addition here is a commitment to avoid misinterpretation of ICS tribunals and monitoring where rules may be misused.
- Labour standards
What change to CETA is needed: a sanctions added that could be triggered when labour standards are violated.
What the declaration gives us: a statement that workers’ rights will be respected. This means there will be no penalty if EU countries or Canada fail to respect workers’ rights. It also states there will be a mechanism to review the impact of CETA on workers that would involve trade unions. While trade unions are ready to be part of any review mechanism it would need to provide trade unions with the ability to trigger investigations into labour rights abuses and corrective action to be taken by governments and employers. Unfotunately, our experience to date of labour rights review mechanisms in existing trade agreements, such as those with South Korea and Colombia, is that trade unions have not been able to use them get the European Commission to take action against trading partners even when egregious rights violation are taking place.
4. Health and environmental standards
What change to CETA is needed: a clear commitment in the text to uphold the ‘precautionary principle’, which protects Europeans from health risks and dangers to the environment.
What the declaration gives us: a statement that CETA will protect the environment but no improvement on the watered down version of the precautionary principle contained in the agreement. This means it will be harder for governments to implement rules to protect us from hazards such as GM additives in food.
This joint declaration indicates the European Commission and the Canadian government are not prepared to seriously engage with concerns raised by trade unions and governments about CETA.
Rather than CETA being a ‘gold standard agreement’, the declaration confirms the threats CETA poses to public services, workers’ rights and governments’ ability to create laws and rules in the public interest.
Ministers, MEPs and MPs need to say no to CETA and call for trade agreements (and for any Brexit deal) to be negotiated with the full involvement of trade unions so that they benefit working people.