Like a punch-drunk boxer tended by his trainer between rounds, CETA is at rest having landed a blow: Candian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the EU Commission signed the agreement on Sunday 30th October 2016. However, the hard-won concessions beaten out of it by public interest groups — and the Walloons — include the delay of full implementation until CETA has been ratified by the member state parliaments, the right to opt out of the ISDS provisions (a good idea in light of Canadian challenges to chemical regulations), and the referral of the Investment Court System to the EU Court of Justice. The signing, then, is not especially significant: the deal can only be provisionally applied for now. CETA must still stagger through many more rounds of ratification by national parliaments and regional assemblies until we finally knock it out.
The pressure will continue
A deal that has been seven years in the making so far is hard to walk away from. The stakes are high and the EU’s credibility in terms of even being able to negotiate a deal is on the ropes. This is their own fault; public interest groups had no meaningful input in the negotiation process and neither MEPs nor members of national parliaments were able to view the text until recently. Now that they can actually pick their way through it they’re finding problems that could have been addressed a long time ago had they just been given a chance. As it is, the pressure to accept the agreement as it is has raised eyebrows at the UN. Alfred de Zayas, the UN Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order has suggested that CETA should be subject to a referendum in each country to which it applies.
“The danger of CETA and TTIP being signed and one day entering into force is so serious that every stakeholder, especially parliamentarians from EU Member States, should now be given the opportunity to articulate the pros and cons. The corporate-driven agenda gravely endangers labour, health and other social legislation, and there is no justification to fast-track it” Mr. de Zayas said.
“Civil society should demand referendums on the approval of CETA or any other such mega-treaty that has been negotiated behind closed doors,” he noted. – UN rights expert urges States not to sign the ‘flawed’ CETA treaty and put it to referendum – United Nations Human Rights Commission press release
High-powered meetings running into the night and weekends are not the only kind of pressure: when media outlets such as the Wall St. Journal and The Economist as well as national newspapers describe opposition as “anti-trade,” “protectionist” and “leftist,” then declare that the failure of the EU Commission to effectively sell CETA to the public raises questions about their competence to negotiate such deals, the shame element comes into force. Embarrassment on the international stage is the most potent pressure and it’s being used to push the EU Commission into a no-win position: be condemned by the UN and public interest groups for foisting this on us without our consent or be laughed at in the media for caving in to public demand. While some of the papers are covering the protest actions against the agreement, few of them are actually addressing the contentious issues. Indeed, most of them just brush off our concerns as if they’re not important, particularly where ISDS is concerned. They will keep the pressure on us so we’ve got to keep the pressure on them. Pressure works.
What about TTIP and other FTAs?
Like a dazed and bloody boxer half-dragged to the middle of the ring, CETA has been declared the winner, though it can barely lift the belt. Even the Financial Times is asking whether or not the secretive, exclusionary manner in which CETA was negotiated is the way forward for trade negotiations going forward. TTIP is in limbo pending the American presidential elections and the Americans are keeping a close eye on CETA’s progress as a model of what they can expect for TTIP. While they are already bemoaning the power of protest, one thing is certain: they’re going to have to include the public in discussions of future trade agreements. This can only be a good thing.