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  October 26, 2016

EU-Canada Trade Doomed to Fail After Walloon Parliament Rejects CETA

Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, says it might be a small region in Belgium but it's speaking on behalf of millions of people in Europe
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Nick Dearden is the director of Global Justice Now. Nick started his career at War on Want where he became a senior campaigner. He went on to be corporates campaign manager at Amnesty International UK. As director of the Jubilee Debt Campaign, he built strong relationships with campaigners in the global south. He helped win a new law to stop Vulture Funds from using UK courts to squeeze huge debt payments out of poor countries. Nick joined Global Justice Now in September 2013.


SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

The Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was expected to arrive in Europe this week to sign the comprehensive economic and trade agreement known as CETA. This is an international trade agreement between the European Union and Canada negotiations of this deal preceded Trudeau. It’s been underway for 7 years under Prime Minister Harper’s government. But Trudeau was eager to sign it nevertheless. The possibility of signing this highly secretive agreement is now up in the air because of the inability of the government of Belgium to sign onto the deal constrained by one of the regions within Belgium, Wallonia. It has voted against CETA, thereby preventing Belgium from ratifying the agreement.

Joining us now from London to discuss the CETA negotiations in Nick Dearden. Nick is the director of Global Justice Now, a UK based social justice organization that has been organizing against CETA and numerous other similar agreements. Nick recently wrote an article entitled Today We Have Won a Battle on CETA but the War is Not Over. Thanks for joining us Nick.

NICK DEARDEN: Thanks for inviting me.

PERIES: So Nick let’s begin with what CETA is and what’s preventing it from being signed.

DEARDEN: Well CETA is very similar to the better known T-TIP agreement, the US-EU deal. This is an EU-Canada deal, but the provisions under those two agreements are really very similar. I think especially important is that this is nothing like a trade deal that you would’ve seen before. So when people call it a trade deal, we normally think well, it’s about lower tariffs so that it’s easier for me to sell cars and you to sell clothes or something like that. Actually what CETA is about at core, exactly the same at T-TIP, is investor protection. It’s about drawing up new rights and protections for foreign corporations and foreign investors to come into your country and do business there.

Now that may all sound perfectly reasonable and legitimate but the problem is that some of these provisions, some of the whole purpose of CETA, just like T-TIP is actually about giving new legal structures for foreign investors and corporations. New powers over our decision making, building a deregulatory liberalization agenda that means that corporations over time will get more and more rights to control and take over public services or be able to run the food system in the way that they want to be able to run it and so on.

When we say trade agreement, sometimes I think we convey the wrong impression and actually that’s why so many people in Europe but also in Canada have said really is this the kind of deal that we want to be doing? And finally the parliament in Belgium that you were talking about, the Wallonian parliament, has come out and said no. We have really serious reservations about this. Not because we don’t like Canada or not because we don’t want to do more trade with Canada, that’s all fine. But because some of these provisions actually wrench apart our democratic rights and our human rights.

PERIES: That’s wonderful and who are these Wallonians anyway and why are they just so objectionable to this agreement?

DEARDEN: Well, Wallonia is a French speaking region of Belgium. Unlike most regions in the European Union, we have a separate parliament in Scotland for example but that parliament doesn’t have any say or remit over what trade agreements the British government can sign. In Belgium, it’s quite different. The regions do have a constitutional right to scrutinize and if necessary to block the signing of trade agreements by the federal Belgian government.

Now a lot of people are saying how dare one little region of Europe hold up something that the rest of the Europe wants to sign. I think that’s the wrong approach for two reasons. First of all, the rest of Europe has been extremely unhappy about this trade agreement. It’s just the rest of us haven’t been able to convince our parliament to spend the time that the Wallonian parliament has spent on it. If you want to have a look at the sheer scale of protest anger and anxiety throughout Europe about CETA, just look at the fact that over a 12-month period, we got nearly 3.5 million Europeans to sign up saying we don’t want T-TIP, we don’t want CETA.

When the European Union launched a consultation on whether we should have this, what we call corporate court system, which is at the heart of CETA just as it’s at the heart of T-TIP, allowing foreign corporations to sue governments for taking action for enacting regulations, for introducing standards which damage their profits. Said we didn’t want this, 97% of respondents said they didn’t want it at all. The European Commission just said well we’ll reform it a little bit but we won’t take it out altogether. So they consistently refused to listen to the European public. They consistently refused to listen to genuine concerns put over by politicians, by the media, and by us as ordinary citizens. The difference is the Wallonian parliaments actually took its job really seriously and said we’re actually going to spend hundreds of hours looking at this trade agreement, scrutinize it and seeing what the things are that we’re concerned about and they came up with a list. They came out with a list earlier in the year. They brought the same list back, a few months ago and they brought it back again over the last week. Unfortunately, the European Commission just refused to listen to genuine concerns on this.

So you know Wallonia might be a very small region in Europe but I believe that they’re speaking on behalf of many, many, many millions of citizens in Europe who feel really disenfranchised by the way trade deals are negotiated and I’m delighted that a parliament has stood up and actually done its job of scrutinizing on behalf of its citizens, whether this will be a good thing for us as ordinary Europeans or not and they’ve decided not unless you deal with these specific questions that we’ve got. You know they’re not against having a trade agreement with Canada. But they’re saying this particular agreement will damage our ability to regulate the financial sector, the big banks. Damage our ability to regulate public services and keep public services really public. Will damage our ability to pass any regulation that foreign business, Canadian business or American business will be able to use CETA through its subsidiaries in Canada. Will damage our ability to pass any regulation those corporations don’t like and therefore it’s a fundamental threat to our people and as they say I think the same thing applies to people right across Europe. So we’re delighted they’ve stood up for us.

PERIES: Yes. The Guardian recently reported that pressure is being placed on the Belgium national government to bring Wallonia in line, otherwise the deal will have to be canceled. What do you know about that and what pressure is being brought on the Wallonian government at this time?

DEARDEN: What we know is reports that we’ve had from politicians in Wallonia and from politicians to the European level and from various leaks and so on that have come out in the media. But there’s absolutely no question about it. Wallonia is being offered various things in order to sign up to this. It’s also being threatened. Extraordinary article came out just a few hours ago saying actually you know if they won’t play ball, we just need to ignore the veto in this. We need to go back to the commission, say actually member states should have no role at all in being allowed to authorize this deal and that will get this over the Wallonian objection. So in other words, suspend democracy to get it through. I mean just an extraordinary idea.

But I’ve no doubt that the Wallonian parliamentarians and especially the leader of the Wallonain parliament are under immense pressure. We’ve seen this kind of pressure exerted on countries and parliaments over years and years and years looking at trade policy. You know the arm twisting that goes on behind the scenes and that’s definitely what Wallonia is being subject to at the moment.

Having said that, all credit to them, they’re holding out. They’re saying no because nothing you’re offering us, nothing you’re threatening us with, makes up for the fact that this is a serious impediment to our ability to run our region of Europe in the way that our citizens have elected us to do.

PERIES: Right and finally, there has apparently been a decision with mixed results actually from the constitutional court in Germany on CETA. Can you explain what that is and the significance of that decision?

DEARDEN: Well this is very important too. It’s been underplayed but it’s extremely important. So one of the things that the European Union wanted to do with CETA was what they called provisionally apply it. That means once it’s been through the council of governments meeting together, that’s what happened last week. Once it’s been through the European parliament, then it effectively becomes law. It still needs to go through all the parliaments in Europe. But rather than waiting for that, it becomes law and we only halt it if there’s a problem with one of the parliaments. This is called provisional implementation. This is what they wanted to do.

But a German constitutional court ruled that actually although it may be okay to do that, there were very serious set of procedures that needed to be go through for that to happen. The European Commission really isn’t sure how it can fulfill those procedures. So although it seems on the surface like the German constitutional court said, go for it, we can live with this. They said only on condition that you look at a series of procedures that would allow this to happen. And the commission don’t know how to do that. So that’s a second problem the commission have got at the moment. I should say this has never happened before in the history of European trade policy.

PERIES: Nick, what role is the UK playing in all this, particularly given that negotiations surrounding Britain’s exit from the European Union.

DEARDEN: Well it’s very interesting. We were – people in this country decided to vote to exit the EU earlier in the year. They did that on the basis that they wanted to get power back over our own affairs. I don’t think it was the best decision but nonetheless that was the decision that was taken. But it’s absolutely extraordinary that our government at the same time as saying we need to leave the European Union is one of the most strident defenders and supporters of CETA in Europe.

So it’s saying, although in the future we won’t be part of the European Union, we will still do everything we can to get this deal through. I think that’s because they want to sign up to CETA as an independent party outside the European Union, once we’ve actually exited. They see these trade agreements as a model for the trade agreements that we should be signing as an independent nation. That should cause huge calls for concern for everybody in Britain because I think the reason that many people voted to leave the European Union was they had enough of being told the free market knows best. They had enough of being told leave it to big business and everything will fall into your lap and we’ll have a happier and better society. They know that’s not true from their own experiences. But now they’re being told, even after you exit from the European Union, we will make sure the big business is essentially still in control.

So we have a huge battle on our hands going forward. To say not only do we want to stop CETA and T-TIP in the European Union for the sake of all of us but actually even out of the European Union, we’re going to have to hold our government to account and we’re going to have to do that with every bit of fight in us because we know that the kind of trade deals that they want to sign us up to in the future will turn our island into a low regulation, low tax, free trade haven for big business everywhere and we’ve got to do everything we can to stop that because that is not reclaiming democracy, I think in anybody’s head.

PERIES: Alright Nick, I thank you so much for joining us today. This will hopefully be another feather in our caps. I thank you.

DEARDEN: Thank you very much.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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