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  February 16, 2017

EU-Canada Trade Deal Will Undermine Domestic Regulations

Trade deals like CETA are in part a result of undemocratic policymaking, says Global Justice Now's Jean Blaylock
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Jean Blaylock is a policy officer at Global Justice Now and has worked for over a decade on international trade and food issues.


SHARMINI PERIES: It's The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

On Wednesday, the European Parliament's lawmakers backed the comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Europe and Canada, known as CETA, by a vote of 408 to 254. Supporters of the agreement argue that it will boost growth for both Europe and Canada. Before the vote, the European Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malmstrom defended the agreement to EU lawmakers, saying that it was done in a transparent manner, and critique of the process was unfair. Let's have a look.

CECILIA MALMSTROM: I respect that there will be people voting in favor and against. But calling a trade agreement with Canada, a coup d'état, is frankly going too far.

SHARMINI PERIES: However, CETA has been the focus of demonstrations in Europe, led by trade unions, environmental and civil societies, as well as human rights groups. Which say it will lead to a race to the bottom, in labor and environmental standards, allowing multinational corporations to dictate public policy. The European Parliament vote is not a done deal. The implementation of CETA will have to clear more than three dozen national, and regional parliaments.

Joining us today, to discuss the comprehensive economic and trade agreement, and its future, is Jean Blaylock. She is a policy officer at Global Justice Now, and has worked for over a decade on international trade and food issues. Thanks for joining us today, Jean.

JEAN BLAYLOCK: Thank you for asking me.

SHARMINI PERIES: So, Jean, let's get to that comment by the Trade Commissioner. What did she mean, when she said that calling this a coup d'état is going too far?

JEAN BLAYLOCK: I think she's putting up a straw man. I mean, there are very serious concerns about the secrecy and lack transparency, with which CETA was negotiated. It was negotiated behind closed doors for years, without any public debate over the text, or being able to see what was being discussed and agreed to.

And the result is something that will lead to increased corporate power, and reduced ability of democratic governments to shape their own regulations. The concerns about this are very real, and outright, and justified.

SHARMINI PERIES: What are some of the main concerns around it?

JEAN BLAYLOCK: Well, it's not really a deal about trade. There is already very open trade between Europe and Canada. It's a deal that's mainly about deregulation, increased privatization, and parts of the agreement that could lead to corporations being able to sue governments, when corporations are unhappy with regulations that governments make.

So, these kinds of concerns are likely to undermine workers' rights. And whilst the proponents of CETA will argue that there will be economic benefits, actually, studies show that there will be very few benefits, and there could actually be job losses as a result of CETA.

SHARMINI PERIES: Jean, given that there was a Brexit vote, and the U.K. is in the process of leaving the European... at least the euro, what does this mean for the U.K.?

And also, given that this kind of deal has to be debated and discussed in each parliament and then passed, is the U.K. going through that process?

JEAN BLAYLOCK: Well, CETA still applies to the U.K., until we actually leave the EU, which will not be for another two years, it will still be provisionally implemented within the U.K. And if CETA is fully ratified, before the U.K. leaves the EU, then there is what's called, a sunset clause, in it. Which will mean that some of the provisions around corporate courts will actually continue to apply to the U.K., for 20 years afterwards.

So, it's still very much a matter for the U.K., and for citizens here. And there is a lot of public concern. A lot of people have been taking action. They've been writing to their MEPs, and expressing their concerns, and they'll still be trying to raise those concerns. There's not so much scope though, unfortunately, within the U.K. for them to be heard.

Although, the Brexit vote was taken with a lot of rhetoric about taking back control, and parliamentary sovereignty, actually there's very little parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals, at the moment. This trade deal can be brought to parliament, and if nobody objects to it within 21 days, then it will be taken to be agreed.

That's a very weak process, it's abysmal really, that that's all that's needed. And it's part of the reason why we're getting these very bad trade deals, because there is not the kind of democratic debate that there ought be, around our trade policy.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. And what is the next stage, in order for CETA to pass, and how many different parliaments must debate the agreement? Or will there be any debate at all, as you're suggesting, in the U.K.?

JEAN BLAYLOCK Well CETA, large parts of CETA, will actually start to be implemented from the start of March. Because now that it's been agreed by the European Parliament, they can go ahead with what's called, provisional implementation. So, some of it will just start coming into force from March onwards, regardless of the debates in parliament.

While the process in the U.K. is limited, as I said, there are other countries that have much more thorough processes within the EU. Where there will actually be real debate, and real votes, and people will actually have a real chance to have their voices heard. So, to some extent, we in the U.K. are going to have to be supporting our colleagues in other countries within the EU, to try and raise some of these concerns.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. And I understand that last week, a report co-published by the Corporate European Observatory, or CEO, it claims that CETA will further empower corporate lobbies, by providing them with early exclusive access to the legislative process.

What can you tell us about some of the findings of this report that we should be concerned about?

JEAN BLAYLOCK: Well, it's about something that's called, regulatory corporation, which sounds incredibly dry. It means that, the provisions within the trade deal, that say that the EU must tell Canada and its business partners, about any legislation that they are planning to introduce. And so, this means that ideas for legislation could be being discussed within the regulatory corporation structures, before they became public.

And this will give a chance for corporations to bring their objections about possible laws, and regulations, and stop them before they've even got started, really. Before there's any public debate, before there is any resistance to the corporate interests. So, it's a high chance that there will be laws that just never make it past that stage because they get dropped by the business lobbying.

SHARMINI PERIES: And if we are to continue to resist CETA, what are some of the things that people could be engaged in, in order to make sure that proper debate actually happens, and there's greater transparency in this process?

JEAN BLAYLOCK: Well, for CETA itself, I mean, it's about getting in touch with parliament, and letting them know about concerns. But, I think it is also part of the wider picture. It does illustrate to us that we do need to change the way that we approach trade policy. There needs to be much more openness about trade policy, to prevent us getting into this kind of situation.

We need to move to a situation where there's actually public debate, about what should be going into trade policy, and what deals should be being started. And what sorts of things we should be looking for in trade policy, before we start, rather than us always ending up in the situations where we're faced with a very bad, and toxic deal, that we are resisting.

We really need to get to a situation where people are able to have a say, in the way that they ought to be in democratic processes, about what the policies should be, to start with.

SHARMINI PERIES: Jean, in the past, your organization has been very successful in defeating these types of trade agreements, what are your plans to defeat this one?

JEAN BLAYLOCK: We will moving to look at the parliamentary process to try and get some debates happening. Because I think at the minute, many of the members of parliament in the U.K., just don't really know what this deal is. They don't know about it, because it's been happening in Europe, and they're not aware of the concerns that are being raised. So, we'll be trying to bring those concerns straight to the parliament, here in the U.K.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Jean, I thank you so much for joining us today, and look forward to the successes you might have, as a result of the fight back. Thank you.


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




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