Both Brexiteers and the EU must take the rejection of CETA seriously

Unite's Tony Burke reviews the collapse of negotiations between Canada and Wallonia


Negotiations to save the Canada – EU trade deal – CETA collapsed on Friday when Canadian International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland walked out of talks with the regional government of Wallonia in Belgium and after discussion with Canada’s PM Justin Trudeau.

Wallonia has blocked the deal due to be signed off this coming Wednesday, and called for greater clarity on employment rights, environment and consumer standards.

A clearly emotional Freeland said:

“Canada worked really hard, and me personally, I worked very hard. It’s become evident for me, for Canada, that the European Union isn’t capable now to have an international treaty even with a country that has very European values like Canada. And even with a country so nice, with a lot of patience like Canada.

‘I’ve worked very, very hard, but I think it’s impossible,’ the minister continued, reflecting on the months of travel and lobbying across Europe she’s invested personally in trying to garner enough support.

Paul Magnette, the president of the Belgian region of Wallonia, has briefed his regional parliament, saying that although talks were ‘productive, difficulties remain but he was not prepared to reverse the decision to reject CETA’.
Belgium’s constitution gives regional governments a role in trade agreements, and has now ended up with an effective veto over a trade deal that impacts the entire EU.

Magnette commented:

“After consideration, the modifications are not enough. We need to go deeper on other issues such as the public services, and some definitions need to be more accurate, but the discussion we had with the Canadians was very constructive.”

It is not immediately clear exactly what compromises or modifications Canada had offered or agreed. The controversial foreign investor arbitration measures (ISDS), already reworked earlier this year, appear likely to be the stumbling block and are now on hold pending a court decision expected next spring and full ratification by over 30 national and sub-national legislatures across Europe.

An unnamed EU spokesperson said that it was not the end of the matter but declined to be name in fear of making matters worse. But President of the EU Commission Jean Claude Junker was in a more bullish mood – making it clear the issue was not yet closed. For him this is make or break and is too big a deal for Canada and the EU to walk away from. Martin Schulz President of the European Parliament has already been drafted in to see if a deal can be brokered.

UK media initially played up the fact that Wallonia is a region of 3.5 million people compared to the 540 million in the populations of EU and Canada. But campaigners against CETA and the other new generation of trade agreements have warned this was likely to happen.

The collapse has implications for Brexit. CETA is in effect the ‘Canadian option’ which was initially being touted by the Government as a possible model for a trade deal and was interesting once the news sunk in the mainstream media highlighted the fact that CETA took seven years to negotiate — a warning for the Brexiteers who have promised the British people an easy ride in securing alternative trade deals.

There there is widespread and popular support against this trade deal, TTIP and TiSA because of the lack of transparency and the widespread opposition to the secret courts allowed under the ISDS clauses.

Cecilia Malmstrom the EU trade commissioner has pushed on with the deal in face of strong opposition — tinkering with the ISDS clauses and failing to heed the warning from unions at the lack of strong labour rights clauses.

Equally people across the EU see the CETA deal as a back door for US corporations to drive through TTIP — or at least to use their offices in Canada to extend their reach into the EU.

For regions such as Wallonia in Belgium deals such as CETA sound warning bells against their way of life and the clear perception that these deals are designed to support multi-national corporations and not citizens of individual countries or regions.

Brexiteers, and the EU Commission would be wrong to simply dismiss this rejection. If anything it will make campaigners and unions opposed to the new generation of trade deals even more determined.

Tony Burke is assistant general secretary of Unite responsible for manufacturing

See also: Canadian trade unions fight Canada-EU deal

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