The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, also known as CETA, has collapsed; the Canadian trade minister Chrystia Freeland told journalists it was “impossible” to reconcile the differences with Wallonia and has returned to Canada. However, the President of the EU Parliament, Martin Schulz, said he was hopeful that a compromise could be found to clear the way for Thursday 27th October’s planned EU-Canada summit where the deal is to be signed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Yet this was the scene on Saturday 22nd October:
Leaving the Élysette, the home of the Walloon government in Namur, Freeland said: “It seems obvious that the EU is now not capable of having an international agreement, even with a country that shares European values such as Canada, even with a country that is so kind and patient. Canada is disappointed. I am personally very disappointed. I have worked very very hard. We have decided to go home. I am truly very, very sad.” – EU-Canada trade deal in crisis as Canadian minister walks out, by Jennifer Rankin for The Guardian
If this is their idea of diplomacy, no wonder Canada failed to convince the Walloons; they’re basically trying to make them accept CETA as it is with no compromise on the sticking points. This bitter carping is unlikely to convince anyone to trust them.
It’s not over yet
The CETA story won’t be over until it’s either been kicked off a cliff by Wallonia standing firm or by the EU Parliament refusing to ratify it when it comes up for a vote. Here’s the problem:
All 28 EU governments support the pact, but Belgium cannot give assent without backing from its five sub-federal administrations.
This means that holdouts Ireland, Holland, and France have caved in; like the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae the Walloons are holding their ground to the last but they’re in dire straits. Can they stand firm?
When Paul Magnette, the head of the Walloon government, met up with Ms. Freeland and with Mr. Shulz, he told the press, “I think it’s worth taking a little more time,” adding that he still saw “some small difficulties”. Since the leaders have stated that they’re cautiously optimistic the issue could be resolved in a short amount of time, we need to stay on our guard — and support the Walloons.
How could CETA be saved?
If Canada and the EU can’t bully or guilt-trip Wallonia into accepting CETA, it’s doomed. What the papers aren’t telling us is that this deal has been hammered out behind our backs and presented to our parliaments as a fait accompli. Result: when we finally read the text, we found it was worse than we thought and lashed out at it. While some of them have acknowledged the complaints made against these FTAs what they’re refusing to countenance is that other approaches to trade are possible. Wallonia isn’t holding up CETA because it’s being unreasonable, but because it has legitimate complaints that aren’t being addressed. Indeed, Canadian premier Justin Trudeau has made it clear that he’s not interested in addressing our reservations — refusing to uncritically accept CETA as it is will forever be interpreted as isolationism if not outright stupidity. While some people seem to think a compromise can be struck they’re forgetting that the deal is sealed; we have to accept or reject it entirely as it is or not at all. It’s the refusal to allow any wiggle room on the Canadian part that’s the problem here. It’s not us, it’s them.
What about Brexit?
Although we haven’t triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty yet, some people are already talking about striking deals with Canada and other countries as if we wouldn’t be sitting in limbo for two years as we waited for Brexit to complete. They also seem to think we can make these bespoke, but that’s not how deals work. The golden rule applies: whoever has the gold makes the rules, and we’re on the back foot with a plummeting pound. Meanwhile, there are increasing calls for Parliament to have a say in the Brexit process.
It is not unpatriotic to want to hold the Government to account, nor is it defeatist to stand up for our economic interests. I cannot see any way out of this bind other than for the Government to present its plan for Brexit to Parliament so that MPs, representing the best interests of their constituents and the nation at large, can scrutinize it, shape it and then approve or reject it. – British Politician David Lammy: Why Parliament Must Have a Say on Brexit, by David Lammy for Newsweek
This sounds entirely reasonable; if the Brexit vote wasn’t decisive enough to give some members of the Tory party a mandate to enforce it, neither was the election that put them in power. They’ve only got a twelve seat majority. Should we attempt to overturn the will of the people? Look at the Americans; Donald Trump has said he will accept the results of the US presidential election if he wins. Facing the prospect of losing, he’s already complaining that the vote is rigged. It is, but not against him. Do we really want such anti-democratic attitudes to fester over here? If we don’t like the result of a democratic decision by the people we should, in my opinion, try to make the best of it and do our best to live in peace with our neighbours. Factions and divisions hurt us all. We’ve got top Tories saying they will flood the Lords with pro-Tory peers if they don’t do what they’re told. They’re complaining that the Lords is unelected (this is true) but their “solution” is completely anti-democratic.
What about trade in future?
What Brexit and the FTAs such as CETA, TTIP and TiSA have in common is that many working people are angry, disenfranchised, and marginalised. People who believe they know what’s best for everyone are making decisions that don’t take the needs of those who are not in their own demographic into consideration. This is why the workers are angry, it’s why they vote for the likes of Trump, and it’s why they voted Brexit. To dismiss them as ignorant, ill-informed racists is to set yourself up to be taken by surprise (again!) the next time something like this comes up. Meanwhile, CETA is on the verge of having its life support turned off because those angry, disenfranchised and marginalised people are fed up with not having their needs taken into consideration. Until such time as the Chambers of Commerce, etc., in the countries we negotiate with are willing to accept openly negotiated trade agreements in which ISDS doesn’t feature, this is going to continue. They ploughed on with CETA and TTIP on the day we killed ACTA. Are they willing to learn from their grave errors or will they keep on pushing these Trojan horses until one of them gets through?