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CETA Beware

17th February 2017

CETA Beware

On February 15th the European Parliament voted to ratify the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). CETA is not as well known as TTIP (the The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), which we thought we were glad to see the back of; but CETA poses equivalent dangers.

Though presented as an EU-Canada trade deal, it would allow any US multinational with an office in Canada to complain about ‘unfair trade practices’. Tariffs between the EU and Canada (and the USA) are already low, so big business will target and try to tear up regulations defending:

• workers’ rights,
• environmental protection
• defence of consumer interests
• support for public services
- in short start a race to the bottom on standards.

The very idea that big business has ‘rights’ to exploit, pollute, poison and butcher public services which override those protections we have fought for and won is grotesque and offensive.

British trade union leaders sent this warning to Labour MEPs.

Dear Labour MEPs,
We write to ask you to oppose the ratification of Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), the EU-Canada trade deal due to be voted on in the European Parliament on February 15.
We understand there are many concerns about CETA influenced by Brexit and the rise to power of Donald Trump in the USA. Nevertheless, we must judge CETA on its merits and the dangers it contains: CETA gives vast new powers to corporations, including to any US business interests currently operating in Canada and the EU – which includes Donald Trump’s hotel business.

CETA, like any trade deal, is meant to encourage growth. But even the proponents of CETA have admitted that CETA may only generate a GDP increase of 0.03 to 0.08 per cent across the EU after 10 years. Indeed, the only country-by-country impact assessment of CETA shows it will cost 200,000 jobs and endanger trade between European countries. As the EMPL of the European Parliament finds, “evidence shows that the agreement would contribute to widening the incomes gap between unskilled and skilled workers thus increasing inequalities and social tensions.”

The ETUC and the Canadian Labour Congress have expressed concerns that, despite the Joint Interpretive Instrument, CETA still fails to address trade union concerns about the enforceability of labour rights. As such, trade unions across Europe and Canada join civil society groups in calling for a no vote to CETA in the European Parliament.

Perhaps the greatest concern over CETA is its investor-state dispute settlement mechanism. While the European Commission has re-branded investor protection as the “Investor Court System” (ICS) and introduced improvements including an appeal mechanism, the introduction of judges and greater transparency, ICS remains a a one-way legal mechanism to sue governments, bounded by the same substantive powers for businesses.

Under ICS, big business can still sue for changes made to the regulatory environment that breach a company’s “legitimate expectations”, resulting in taxpayers’ effectively providing risk insurance for North American big business. Any government’s “right to regulate” will be determined by a “necessity test”, while investment is still defined in such a way (“the expectation of gain or profit”) that companies will be able to sue for future lost profits.

The treatment of public services in CETA also sets a deeply disturbing precedent: CETA introduces negative listing (“list it or lose it”) of public services to trade deals, pairing this with standstill and ratchet clauses which effectively make privatisation irreversible – without facing a legal claim under the deal’s ISDS mechanism. This commitment is intrinsically undemocratic and against the interests of those who fight to defend public services and jobs in such industries.

The UK’s interests have been poorly defended in the negotiations of CETA, and, as you know, international trade secretary Liam Fox bypassed the UK parliament to sign the UK on to the deal at EU Council level.  Appendix 20-A of CETA lists 173 products known as Geographical Indicators, from Feta cheese through to Edam and Modena balsamic vinegar. The UK is unique among EU Member States in not protecting any of its products, whether Cornish Pasties or Cheddar cheese.

We are hearing much about possible trade deals in the future once we have left the EU, both in Canada and the UK CETA has been identified as a template for future UK deals with Canada and the EU respectively. We therefore must ensure a progressive precedent for future trade deals which prioritises human rights, jobs and environmental rules. CETA fails on each of these counts. We trust you will do whatever you can to defeat CETA on the floor of the European Parliament.

In solidarity
Mary Bousted, General Secretary, ATL
Gail Cartmail, acting General Secretary, Unite
Mick Cash, General Secretary, RMT
Manuel Cortes, General Secretary, TSSA
Kevin Courtney, General Secretary, NUT
Ronnie Draper, General Secretary, BFAWU
Sally Hunt, General Secretary, UCU
Tim Roache, General Secretary, GMB
Mark Serwotka, General Secretary, PCS
Dave Prentis, General Secretary, UNISON
Dave Ward, General Secretary, CWU
Mick Whelan, General Secretary, ASLEF.

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