22 April 2016
The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and European Trade Union Congress (ETUC) have released a joint statement calling for further amendments to be made to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) – a trade agreement between Canada and the EU – and have announced they will ask elected officials to reject the agreement if it is not opened for further debate.
CETA is a similar class of agreement to the better known TTIP arrangement. It would allow foreign investors from both trade blocs extended access to international markets. Both agreements have been widely criticised for prioritising business interests above populations.
As Linda Kaucher of Stop TTIP explained in an IER blog: “Key aspects of [these agreements] … are deregulation and investor state dispute settlement (ISDS). Deregulation means getting rid of regulations that protect people because they limit the profits of corporations. ISDS, a quasi-legal but binding mechanism allows transnational corporations to sue governments for any regulating that limits expected corporate profits.”
In their statement, the CLC and ETUC expressed their disappointment that the CETA did not expand on both Canada and the EU’s tradition of more progressive social, labour and environmental standards, and instead serves to damage these.
The CETA provides “a VIP process for foreign investors” in the form of the ISDS, the organisations explained, pointing out that there is no reason why disputes could not be processed through existing court systems in a more equitable manner than is proposed.
Furthermore, there is nothing in the CETA to exclude public sector organisations from the arrangement, where there are legitimate and important reasons for domestic businesses to be prioritised in procurement processes: for instance, the fact that the state plays a vital role in providing work for domestic businesses and jobseekers in order to stimulate the national economy.
The CLC and ETUC also called for provisions to provide stronger labour standards, as the agreement currently requires only “mild” protections for workers with no enforcement mechanisms in place.
“If this agreement truly aims at becoming the gold standard for trade agreements, violations of its labour provisions should most definitely be subject to its dispute settlement process and punishable ultimately with sanctions,” the statement said.
Lastly, the bodies expressed concern over the “ratchet” effect on liberalisation of services, identifying that the CETA “locks” liberalising policies in such a way that they can only be made stronger but never reversed.
The CETA was drafted in secrecy and made public only once it was announced no further amendments could be made, but despite this claim, some changes have been allowed. The CLC and ETUC have stated that the document must remain open to redrafting and the changes the bodies put forth must be considered before it goes to vote.
“There will be no great loss if another year is spent getting the agreement right, but an awful lot to lose if it is rushed through in the name of short-term political expediency,” they said.
“Unless the text is adjusted to meet our concerns, we will have to call on our elected officials to reject the CETA.”