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Global action day against TTIP, CETA & TiSA, 18th April 2015 in Berlin. Photo: Cornelia Reetz / Mehr Demokratie via Flickr (CC BY-SA).
Global action day against TTIP, CETA & TiSA, 18th April 2015 in Berlin. Photo: Cornelia Reetz / Mehr Demokratie via Flickr (CC BY-SA).
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Canada-EU 'TTIP' trade deal, CETA, down - but not out

Nick Dearden

18th October 2016

The EU Council today blocked the progress of CETA, the Canada-EU trade deal, writes Nick Dearden. It's a dramatic reversal for the transatlantic 'free trade' agenda, with the unpopular TTIP US-EU agreement already close to death. But negotiators aren't giving up on their aim to push CETA through, no matter what. Our fight goes on!

CETA and TTIP are less about trade, and more about handing power to big business, even allowing foreign corporations to sue governments in special 'corporate courts' for taking action that damages their profits.

Last month proponents of the US-EU TTIP trade and investment deal turned against the agreement.

Government ministers in France, Germany and Austria said it was time to declare the deal dead, given the wave of anger and protest it had caused throughout Europe.

Today, the EU Council, the EU's senior body made up of member state leaders and senior ministers, followed up TTIP's apparent defeat by blocking CETA, the equally dangerous trade deal between the US and Canada.

Negogiators and lobbyists have been desperate to push it through as their last hope to cement in the entire agenda of corporate deregulation and empowerment, restricting the ability of state governments to regulate for health, environment and labour standards.

And they believed they would succeed, as CETA negotiations have already concluded and the full text is agreed. All that CETA needed to become law was the final sign off of the EU Council and ratification by the European Parliament.

In the lead up to today's meeting, negotiators were touring Europe to convince sceptical politicians that the problems around CETA can be managed. They even wriote a special document to accompany the deal which (they claim) makes it absolutely clear that states retain their so-called 'right to regulate'. But critics weren't buying it. The only words that matter, they argue, are those in the official 1,500 page agreement.

But today the CETA boosters failed - for now. Unexpectedly, EU governments failed to sign off CETA, putting a temporary halt to the process. This is big news as a trade deal has never before in history experienced such difficulties in the EU Council.

Plucky Belgium to the rescue ...

Today's meeting of the EU Council was not only supposed to give the final approval from European government for CETA, but to agree to the 'provisional implementation' of the deal. This would mean CETA would come into effect as soon as the European Parliament has voted on it - probably later this year - before member state parliaments like Westminster get a say.

In Belgium, regional parliaments, most importantly the Walloon Parliament, have taken a strong stance against CETA. On Friday the head of the Walloon government Paul Magnette announced that he would block Belgium's support for CETA in today's meeting. Because of Belgium's federal structures, this meant Belgium could not vote in favour of CETA.

Of his refusal to accept the deal, he said: "I consider this a request to re-open negotiations so that European leaders could hear the legitimate demands which have been forcefully expressed by an organized, transparent civil society."

In other words, the setback is only a temporary one, delaying but not stopping the deal. Austria, which had opposed CETA, has now backed down. Romania, Bulgaria and Slovenia remain sceptical - but largely because of visa issues for their citizens, rather than on the substance of CETA.

Shockingly, the British government is one of CETA's most enthusiastic backers, including its 'provisional implementation'. UK trade ministers hope that the UK can accede to CETA before our exit from the EU takes place, since the agreement would survive beyond Brexit, giving us at least one ready-made 'free trade' deal.

In Germany, however, the Constitutional Court recently delivered a further blow to CETA's prospects, questioning the compatibility between CETA and the German constitution. The ruling insisted that, as a minimum, Germany should be able to pull out of CETA during the period of provisional application if it is proved that CETA contravenes the German constitution, and that the corporate court system cannot be provisionally applied.

Carry on campaigning!

Even though CETA didn't make it through the EU Council meeting today, we can't stop campaigning. The signing of CETA was mainly held back by Belgium and the Walloon Parliament standing up for their farmers. Under pressure from the EU's great powers they may yet be bullied into backing down or softening their stance.

Hence CETA could still be signed soon - even if EU Council does not approve the 'provisional ratification' that would remove the power of national parliaments to block the deal by refusing to ratify it.

That means campaigners must look forward to the next stages in CETA's progress. First, we must turn to our elected representatives in the European Parliament. Although some MEPs, like Scottish Labour MEP David Martin, are trying to 'fast track' the parliamentary vote, others are holding out for more scrutiny.

And if it gets through the EU Parliament, we may - if 'provisional ratification' is not agreed - still have a chance to reverse CETA as it goes through member state parliaments. That's why its essential to keep on hammering our message home with both our MEPs and MPs.

We must tell them that CETA and TTIP are less about trade, and more about handing power to big business, even allowing foreign corporations to sue governments in special 'corporate courts' for taking action that damages their profits. They represent a huge threat to our public services and our food standards.

In most respects, CETA is just as awful as TTIP. While negotiators have tampered with the 'corporate court' system and written reassuring words to allay concerns, CETA is still essentially a pact for deregulation and liberalisation.

It allows big business more say in how we produce food, how we treat chemicals, how our public services are run. That's why protests against the deal over the last month have engaged hundreds of thousands of people. The more people hear about CETA, the more opposition grows.

Despite today's victory, the war against these toxic 'free trade' deals is far from over. But we have at least gained the luxury of time - time to campaign and lobby, and time to get the word out: that it's not just TTIP that we have to defeat, but CETA as well.

 


 

Nick Dearden is the director of Global Justice Now since 2013. Previously he has worked for War on Want, Amnesty International and Jubilee Debt Campaign.

TTIP: Transatlantic Trade & Investment Agreement

CETA: Comprehensive Economic & Trade Agreement

 

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