By Zoltàn Massay-Kosubek, Policy Co-ordinator for Healthy Trade and Trade Equity, EPHA
EU Trade Ministers agreed on 23rd September to press on with the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) at the Informal Trade Ministerial meeting in Bratislava, despite widespread protests and continuing concerns. Once the decision is confirmed at the next Trade Council meeting on 18th October and CETA is signed on 27 October during the EU-Canada Summit, national parliaments across the EU will have their opportunity to approve or reject the deal.
CETA is the first trade agreement between the EU and a major world economy and the most far-reaching bilateral trade agreement negotiated to date. This agreement marks a crossroads for European trade policy, shifting the focus far beyond traditional tariff reductions, and venturing into new issues such as regulatory cooperation and investment.
As a ‘mixed-agreement’, CETA will enter into force following a Council decision with the consent of the European Parliament, and by the agreement of all Member States through the relevant national ratification procedures. An open and democratic debate has already started in many member states (for example, in Austria, Hungary, Ireland) as to whether CETA should be approved at all.
The final decision will have knock-on effects on the fate of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). While many say that CETA is different to TTIP as Canada is not the US, CETA is intended to blaze the trail for future trade agreements.
Both CETA and TTIP agreements contain very similar provisions. The most controversial and harmful aspect is the Investment Court System (ICS) – which would allow companies based in Canada to sue European governments if they feel their investments are compromised by changes in laws. Past cases have for example included tobacco companies suing for damages following the introduction of plain packaging laws, or chemical companies suing following bans on asbestos.
With the spotlight on CETA, and apparent deadlock on both sides of the Atlantic, it might seem that the TTIP negotiations are dead and buried. Not the case: The deal has always received unanimous support in Trade Council meetings, with some politicians call for ending the current negotiations and re-starting them under a new name. CETA lives on and despite the protests and politicians’ rhetoric, TTIP will come back to haunt public health.