From the TUC

European Parliament vote for CETA brings the battle for fair trade deals home

15 Feb 2017, by in International

Today the European Parliament voted 408 in favour of the EU-Canada deal known as CETA with 254 votes against.

This means that about 90% of the deal comes into force and paves the way for the deal to be sent to the UK parliament for approval.  If the UK parliament agrees to CETA we will also be bound by  the notorious Investment Court System (ICS) which would continue to apply for 20 years even after we leave the EU.

This is bad news for workers.

The TUC has consistently highlighted the dangers CETA poses to workers’ rights as the deal contains no means for workers to report or correct abuses of their rights, while foreign investors can use ICS to challenge workers’ rights that they argue threaten their profits.

This is bad news for public services.

The UK government didn’t request for public services to be fully written out of the agreement which means CETA will expose health, education, transport and other services to further privatisation.  If ICS is introduced foreign investors could sue governments for changing the way public services operate.

This sets a bad precedent for a Brexit deal.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said last week that a future deal between the EU and UK should not follow the model of CETA.  It wouldn’t protect workers’ rights, public services or provide the kind of tariff and barrier free access for trade that we are calling for to protect good jobs in our export industries. She added that:

…if there’s a form of ICS in a future UK-EU deal, our public services would be under even greater threat from foreign investors. The promise to ‘take back control’ would be broken, and we will lose the sovereignty people voted to get back.

A number of MEPs reflected union concerns in their public statements opposing CETA released ahead of the vote today, including those by Paul Brennan, Afzal Khan, Theresa Griffin and Jude Kirton-Darling (although maternity leave meant she wasn’t able to vote).  Jude said:

“I cannot support a deal that is risky for public services, weakens the rule of law and is not good enough for workers and the environment.”

There were a significant number of MEPs voting against CETA (the full list of those who voted against CETA is on p.6 – 7 here) and the European Parliament employment committee also opposed the agreement because of the threats it poses to workers’ rights.

However, unfortunately this was not enough to swing the vote.

…But the fight is not over

The TUC along with trade unions across Europe will oppose CETA when it comes to our national parliaments (in the case of Britain, the date hasn’t been confirmed).

The TUC will be pushing for much greater public parliamentary scrutiny of the deal, in contrast to what we have seen so far where there was only a last minute debate between a handful of MPs before this crucial European Parliament vote.

There also needs to be more meaningful trade union involvement in consideration about the implications of CETA for workers. This should set a standard for parliamentary scrutiny and meaningful engagement by the government with trade unions when negotiating a future Brexit deal.

Trade union campaigning over CETA has shown trade deals can be changed if workers come together and build alliances to voice concerns.

Mass mobilisations and trade union campaigning helped to delay the deal from being agreed and lead to some additions being made to the agreement. Unions across Europe made clear that these additions did not address the threats CETA posed, however.  In what appears to be a partial acknowledgement of union’s concerns, Commissioner Malmström pledged in the European Parliament debate today that she would be consulting on whether changes were needed to to the sustainable development chapter that covers labour rights (as she also committed to in a letter released last week).

ETUC’s confederal secretary for trade Liina Carr today said they will be ‘monitoring this commitment and demanding results’ which need to include a role for trade unions to trigger investigations into labour abuses and trigger sanctions for violations.

In the TUC’s campaigns against CETA and for a Brexit deal that delivers for workers, we will continue to call for new approach to trade agreements.  Trade deals must protect workers’ rights, public services and support decent jobs and ensure the gains of trade really are fairly distributed.