European Union countries voted to ratify the Canada-EU trade deal known as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) on 18 October 2016.
The formal signing ceremony was cancelled when the French-speaking region of Belgium rejected the proposed deal – casting doubt on the agreement and the entire basis of EU trade policy.
The deadlock was broken when the EU countries agreed to refer the controversial Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system to the European Court of Justice to determine whether it is compatible with democracy. ISDS allows corporations to sue European governments over their policies.
Trade diplomats and politicians expressed relief when the deal was signed on 30 October.
But opponents – including the Canadian and European trade union movements – have not finished with CETA.
The hurdles that still need to be overcome, any one of which could yet derail the deal, include crucial votes in:
- every EU member state’s parliament
- the European Parliament and
- the German constitutional court.
- The controversial system to protect foreign investors cannot be implemented, even provisionally, until everyone has agreed.
Trade unions have participated in major campaigns to convince countries and concerned constituencies that CETA could threaten public services, labour standards, the environment or state sovereignty.
The unions have called for:
- public services to be excluded from the agreement. Public services are particularly vulnerable because CETA locks in current levels of liberalisation making it difficult for future governments to stop Canadian companies from delivering public services in the EU.
- secret courts designed to protect foreign investors to be removed from the agreement
- sanctions that could be triggered when labour standards are violated
- a clear commitment to uphold the ‘precautionary principle’ which protects Europeans from health risks and dangers to the environment.
In an earlier Prospect blog on the trade deal negotiations we outlined how campaigners have warned that CETA could be a model for a post-Brexit, EU-UK trade deal.
A CETA-style deal would significantly reduce the UK’s access to EU markets and increase investors’ powers to carve up public services and tear down employment, health and safety and environmental regulation.