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Unions, civil society groups call for political mobilization to reject CETA

7 December 2016 Editorial
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The IUF, our sister international Public Services International (PSI) and many trade unions on both sides of the Atlantic including IUF affiliates are among the more than 450 organizations which have issued a call to legislators to reject the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada (click here to read the letter and the list of signatories).

Canada and the EU signed the treaty on October 30, bringing major parts of the agreement into 'provisional application', but it must still be ratified by the European and Canadian parliaments as well as the national parliaments of all EU member states to enter fully into force.

Opposition from the regional Walloon parliament in Belgium held up the earlier planned signature, in response to which a 'Joint Interpretative Declaration' was hastily revised to placate substantial public opposition to the deal. The Declaration does nothing to address the legitimate concerns which have brought millions of people on to the streets in Canada and the EU, nor does it transform the fundamentally anti-democratic CETA into the 'progressive trade agreement' its proponents are marketing.

CETA remains "an investment treaty embedded in a comprehensive deregulatory project" and the Interpretative Declaration does nothing to alter this. The Declaration contains, for example, the ludicrous pronouncement that "CETA will not result in foreign investors being treated more favourably than domestic investors. CETA does not privilege recourse to the investment court system set up by the agreement. Investors may choose instead to pursue available recourse in domestic courts." Transnational investors, however, have always been able to make use of domestic legal systems. CETA's investment court, which rebrands the notorious investor-to-state tribunals, creates a parallel legal system available only to transnational capital.

The Interpretative Declaration solemnly declares that "CETA preserves the ability of the European Union and its Member States and Canada to adopt and apply their own laws and regulations that regulate economic activity in the public interest, to achieve legitimate public policy objectives…" This 'interpretative' commentary merely echoes existing language in the treaty text, which also affirms a right to regulate - a right, moreover, which is established in international customary human rights law and needs no affirmation in a commercial treaty. But under CETA, governments 'preserve' the right to regulate only to the extent that laws and regulations are 'non-discriminatory' with respect to foreign investors, they are not 'burdensome' (to corporations) and that citizens are prepared to pay when lawmakers exercise their mandate to protect the public interest. Should a transnational investor challenge the measures, the investment court will determine whether 'indirect expropriation' has occurred through a 'fact-based inquiry that takes into consideration, among other factors: the extent to which the measure or series of measures interferes with distinct, reasonable investment-backed expectations'(CETA Annex 8A, where 'The Parties confirm that expropriation may be direct or indirect.')

Moreover, the attack on democratic governance is not restricted to the new look investor-to-state dispute mechanism. The expansive claims of transnational investors permeate the entire treaty, including the chapters on government procurement, domestic regulation, intellectual property and financial services, which the Interpretative Declaration doesn't even pretend to address.

Far from being 'progressive', "CETA is a backward-looking and even more intrusive version of the old free trade agenda designed by and for the world's largest multinationals", notes the joint statement. US transnationals, through their Canadian subsidiaries, can make full use of CETA to attack current and future EU laws and regulations they find burdensome, while CETA provides a platform for non-EU corporations with EU subsidiaries to attack public interest regulation in Canada.

CETA locks in place an investment regime which precludes the genuinely progressive investment measures future governments will need to make use of to pursue democratic goals and reduce inequality. The treaty's new clothes are threadbare. Resistance must be organized to ensure its defeat.