From the TUC

#TTIP with the US comes second: #CETA with Canada comes first

14 Jun 2015, by in International

Trade deals haven’t been so high profile since the 1999 ‘battle for Seattle’, when the World Trade Organisation was met with a wave of anti-globalisation protests. In the US, first the Senate then the House of Representatives have seen pitched battles over ‘Fast Track’ measures designed to allow the Obama administration to negotiate trade deals without detailed scrutiny. In Europe, the EU-US trade deal known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) has become a hot political issue in the European Parliament as well as in countries like Britain and Germany. Proponents of TTIP ask why no one got so worked up about the EU-Canada trade deal, or CETA, negotiated without much public attention earlier this decade. But they should be careful what they wish for. The CETA campaign is beginning to build.

The Comprehensive Trade and Economic Agreement, to give CETA its full title (yes, everyone thinks CETA stands for Canada-Europe Trade Agreement. But that would be too simple!) has already been agreed, finalised, and signed (over and over again, it seems, every time a Canadian or European politician needs a photo opportunity.) It is currently proceeding through ‘legal scrubbing’ of the text, and translation into the multitude of languages of the European Union. But before it comes into effect, it needs to be endorsed by the European Parliament and, because it is a ‘mixed agreement’ including not just trade but also investment measures, by all 28 national parliaments too. (And in Canada, by their parliament and by the provinces.)

The battle over TTIP in the European Parliament is over the shape of the agreement – but CETA is, formally, already completed. It contains many of the elements that have caused such outrage and controversy in TTIP: Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), a ‘hybrid list’ system that inadequately protects public services from liberalisation and privatisation, and a wholly inadequate system for addressing breaches of workplace and environmental rights. So if it comes into effect, foreign investors will be able to claim eye-watering sums in compensation for government actions that threaten existing or expected profits, but workers and unions will only be able to get a stiffly worded report from a committee of experts.

Many of the US companies who are looking forward to taking ISDS cases against European governments under TTIP already have operations in Canada that would let them do exactly the same under CETA. And no one has yet explained why the European Commission is now ‘convinced’ that investor protection under TTIP needs to be ‘substantially’ different from earlier versions of ISDS, but is happy for CETA to be ratified and implemented with precisely that earlier version embedded in it. (The answer is because they think they have gotten away with old-style ISDS in CETA, but public opposition has forced them to come up with an ISDS-lite for TTIP – not that we think either is acceptable.)

But now that our arguments have been honed over TTIP, unions and other campaigners have become aware that CETA presents all of the same problems, without any chance to amend it or improve it. And while the TUC is told that we shouldn’t oppose TTIP until we’ve seen the detail, that can’t be argued about CETA: we know what’s in it, and the only way to stop it or secure changes is to reject the current version outright. And that’s precisely what the TUC General Council decided just before last year’s Congress.

We don’t yet know when CETA will come before the European Parliament or Westminster, although it’s more than likely that the votes will come before the end of the TTIP negotiations. But we need to start raising awareness among activists and politicians now, so that when it does, it gets proper attention rather than being smuggled through below the radar, and so that we can mobilise popular opposition. And we will be using opportunities such as this autumn’s Canadian General Election to give the issue more attention. The struggles over TTIP could be just a dress rehearsal for the CETA campaign to come.