Ceta Vote in the European Parliament ENVI Committee

A Treaty most of you have never heard of but one which will have a major impact on all our lives on this island came a step closer to ratification last week with a decision by one of the most powerful Committees to recommend its acceptance by Parliament at a Plenary session next month.

CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) is a proposed deal between Canada and the EU and its Member States that was negotiated entirely in secret, behind closed doors, in consultation almost exclusively with big business. It emerged into the daylight, fully formed and ready for translation, only when people began to learn about a similar but even bigger proposed deal, TTIP (Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership), between the USA and the EU, which likewise is being negotiated in secret.

Despite the tag, CETA is not about Trade, it’s about big business and standards – labour standards, environment standards, food quality standards, healthcare standards – and it’s about big business and access to and potential private ownership of what are normally seen as public utilities – water, power, transport, communication, etc etc.

In its push for these massive intercontinental agreements, big business speaks lovingly of ‘removing barriers to free trade’; those so-called barriers, however, are society’s hard-won protections against the greed of those same big global corporations.

The report on which the ENVI voted this week was what’s called a Draft Opinion from ENVI on its concerns about CETA, to the Committee on International Trade (INTA), the committee responsible for such deals.

In its ‘Short Justification’ that report stated the following:

CETA crosses the following red lines of the ENVI opinion (paragraphs 2, 5, 7, 9, 14 and 17):

•             the precautionary principle is not reflected – instead precaution is conditioned by reference to international agreements - none of which include this principle,

•             regulatory cooperation – while being voluntary – is not limited to clearly specified sectorial areas where the US and the EU have similar levels of protection or where one could expect upward harmonization, but is all encompassing,

•             it has provisions on

1.            public healthcare services – provisions that de facto limit the freedom of governments to take policy decisions,

2.            GMOs – provisions moreover designed to undermine EU GMO laws, their application and their future development,

•             it includes cooperation on chemicals – thus involving one of the strongest opponents to REACH in its implementation,

•             it includes public and social services subject to a negative list,

•             has no binding provisions on animal welfare – instead promotes an increase in trade without any proper safeguards for animal protection,

•             it includes ICS, a dispute settlement mechanism that grants foreigninvestors a parallel jurisdiction to challenge states, fundamentally undermining the sovereign rights of the EU and its Member States.

Application of CETA risks undermining inter alia the following standards that ENVI considered fundamental (see paragraph 8): 

•             non-approval of active substances and EU maximum residue levels for pesticides,

•             regulatory measures with regard to endocrine disrupters,

•             the EU’s integrated approach to food safety,

•             the achievement of EU climate and energy targets.

Contrary to ENVI demands (see paragraph 10), CETA:

•             only partially protects geographical indications,

•             has no provisions on the reduction of antibiotics in livestock farming,

•             does nothing to implement the UNECE Agreements from 1958 and 1998 on cars,

•             does not promote renewables,

•             uses negative lists with regard to the right to regulate in the energy sector.’

In its summary final paragraph, it said:  The Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety calls on the Committee on International Trade, as the committee responsible, to recommend that Parliament decline to give its consent (my emphasis) to the draft Council decision on the conclusion of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada, of the one part, and the European Union and its Member States, of the other part.

And yet it fell. Why? Because the dreaded Grand Coalition of the European Parliament, the EPP (Fine Gael), S&D (Socialists & Democrats – Labour) and ALDE (Liberals) has decided that the free market and big business and neoliberalism is all that matters, and the people and the environment be damned. They put in just one amendment - removed those two vital words in that final paragraph, ‘decline to’, so that it then read ‘recommend that Parliament give its consent to the draft Council decision on the conclusion of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA)’.

It’s still not too late to fight this but time is running out. I would urge people to please contact their local MEPs, their Fine Gael MEPs specifically but no harm to let the rest of us know also, and urge them to vote against this deal.

CETAPaul Cotter