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Belgian regional parliaments reject free trade agreement between EU & Canada #CETA

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News item

Tuesday 25 Oct 2016

The Brussels and Wallonia Regional parliaments in Belgium have voted to reject The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada. This has effectively stopped the ratification process in its tracks, as all member states must vote in favour of the free trade treaty with Canada for it to come in to EU law. I co-signed an open letter from 88 MEPs in support of the Belgium vote against CETA.Belgium has five regional parliaments, and there must be unanimity in their votes under the Belgium federal system. EU leaders are current working to attempt to get the Belgians to reverse their decision. The background to this EU Canada free trade agreement is detailed below, and the following is the formal ratification process:

Timeline for CETA ratification

  • The heads of all 28 member states were set to meet on Oct. 20-21 to vote on the provisional application of CETA, this decision was deferred due to the Belgium vote.
  • Ireland had already signed off on the provisional application of the deal at a cabinet meeting in mid-October. This was despite a motion moved by Independent Senator Alice Mary Higgins (5th October) to stop Ireland signing up to the free trade agreement, being passed by one vote in the Seanad.
  • The Canadian prime minister was to travel the following week to Brussels to sign the treaty.
  • After this official signing, the European Parliament was then scheduled vote on the treaty, likely in late 2016 or early 2017. To pass the treaty requires majority support in parliament.
  • Each member state will then have to vote to ratify the treaty.
  • According to the European Commission, a rejection at national level would not cease the provisional application in areas of exclusive EU competence. But there is a good amount of legal uncertainty surrounding the outcome of negative national votes, and I believe CETA would be fatally wounded politically if all the member states failed to vote through the treaty. Although aspects of CETA involving the EU’s exclusive competence areas would survive – without support of the 28 member state parliaments there would be no Investor Court System, and the treaty would not include all the environmental, labour and fisheries clauses, and there would be no mutual recognition of qualifications for example.

TTIP & CETA

The EU on behalf of the member states is current negotiating an EU US trade deal called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).  Talks around another trade deal between the EU and Canada have concluded – this deal is called The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

Although there are lots of reports of its demise TTIP is currently alive and is being negotiated and, like CETA, this deal it if proceeds has the potential to influence government and the EU in ways that go beyond usual trade deals. The negotiations centre on the services markets and regulations as negotiators seek to streamline regulations and liberalise the services sector. Water, healthcare, education , postal services and energy could be open to being privatised under the deal. Many citizens’ groups including SIPTU, IMPACT and The Irish Cancer Society have outlined their concerns.

Like The Trade in Services Agreement  (TISA) – a World Trade Organisation/EU agreement also currently being negotiated, these next generation agreements involve opening up health, education, social care services and allowing private business access to these services in competition with local authorities and governments.

Aside from the lack of coverage in the Irish media of the actual substance of these very critical trade talks, there are a number of concerns being expressed by campaign and civil society groups. In particular that a special Investment Court System (ICS) will be incorporated into CETA & TTIP to allow corporations to sue EU member states who wish to introduce strong legislation to protect public health, food safety and environmental legislation for example. There are concerns that this court system will have a chilling effect on the introduction of new legislation.

TTIP and CETA are enthusiastically supported by the Irish government who believes the deal has the potential to bring benefits to the Irish SME sector. You can read a copy here of An Taoiseach’s letter to me in this regard. The Irish Government also supports the provisional implementation of CETA before it is ratified by each member state parliament.

To come into force TTIP and CETA have to be passed by a majority of MEPs in the European Parliament, and I too have to carefully consider how I will vote on these critical treaties.

I share the serious concerns about the ability of member states and the European Union to introduce new laws in certain areas if TTIP and CETA come into force. I am also very wary of allowing the introduction of any court that would supersede national courts. Because of these concerns I worked with like-minded MEPs and submitted amendments to the Parliament’s formal report on TTIP tabled in 2015.

As things stand I will not vote for either of these trade deals when they come before the European Parliament for the final vote.