Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Controversial Canada-EU Trade Deal Signed After All


Thanks to CETA, the new Canada-EU "trade" agreement, this statement may no longer be true. It appears cell phones may be seized and searched at the border. But not to worry; so far this presumably applies only to travel between the EU and Canada, for now (source; click to enlarge).

by Gaius Publius

Just a few days after many observers declared that the controversial and much-protested Canada-EU trade deal CETA was dead, the group holding up the process, the parliament of Wallonia, the French-speaking region of multi-lingual and multi-ethnic Belgium, caved to pressure and approved the deal after all. The Wallonia parliament was the last European regional parliament whose approval was needed, and in the end, they gave in. The vote now goes to EU national parliaments, all of which are expected to vote yes.

The Guardian:
The EU and Canada signed a free trade deal on Sunday that was almost derailed last week by objections from French-speaking Belgians, exposing the difficulties of securing agreement from 28 member states as Britain prepares for Brexit talks. ...

[Canadian Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau and top EU officials signed the comprehensive economic and trade agreement, known as Ceta, paving the way for most import duties to be removed early next year. However, the treaty needs the approval of at least 38 national and regional parliaments, including the UK’s, to take full force.

Trudeau was meant to fly to Brussels last Wednesday but he stayed at home when the Wallonia region raised objections that held up agreement until Thursday. Belgium’s regional parliaments endorsed a compromise deal, which addressed concerns about competition for Wallonia’s farmers from Canada, on Friday.

Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, who stood beside Trudeau at a news conference, said the delay was caused by Belgium’s internal politics and that the deal would be far less contentious when it went before national parliaments.
Among those Wallonian objections:
Wallonia has been nervous about exposing its agricultural sector to competition from Canadian farmers. Magnette had also raised objections to a proposed court system for settling disputes between foreign investors and governments.

One concession he won means that Belgium would be able to go to the European court of justice to determine whether a system of investor-state tribunals were compatible with EU law. The four-page document contains a guarantee that the Belgian government will assess the socio-economic and environmental impact of Ceta.
So the Walloons objected to the effect of competition from Canada on their agricultural market ... and to the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions that bedevil all of these treaties. (ISDS clauses typically give corporations, and only corporations, the right to sue nations — in special trade-only tribunals — for "lost profit" due to, for example, regulation of industries. "Corporate sovereignty" is a fair way to describe the effect of these clauses, since after the trade tribunal rules, there's no appeal of the deicsion, even to a nation's supreme court.)

So note the solution agreed to by the Wallonian parliament — a side deal whereby Belgium (and, apparently, only Belgium) could go to the EU court of justice to make sure that an ISDS ruling under CETA was also compatible with EU law. Does this right apply across the whole of Europe? Not as the Guardian has written the two paragraphs above.

Other objections raised by citizens who protested this treaty strongly include these, from the tech site FreezeNet.ca (emphasis mine):
One of the many secret trade deals floating around is known as CETA. While proponents say these trade agreements are simply about trade, the details suggest that such agreements are much more about pushing laws than actual trade.

Last year, we dug into some of these details and found a number of provisions that adversely affects digital rights. This includes censorship through site blocking, account termination through a three strikes law, unlimited damages for copyright infringement, and provisions that allow border patrols to seize your cell phone at the border.
Again, "corporate sovereignty," with the power of the state to enforce it. Can you imagine having your cell phone seized at the border because agents want to check it for illegally downloaded songs? It's the wave of the protected corporate future.

The pressure from the rest of the European elites on the Walloon parliament must have been immense. The Wallonians went from thinking this: "Politicians in Wallonia had argued that the proposed deal would undermine labor, environment and consumer standards and allow multinationals to crush local companies" ...  to full parliamentary approval in roughly two days.

CETA still needs full approval of the European national parliaments, but as I wrote above, that's expected. Score one for the holders of big money, and the people that money buys them.


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