14 Days Remaining

Wednesday 15th
posted by Morning Star in Features

By Guy Taylor

TODAY, the European Parliament votes on whether to ratify or not the free trade deal known as the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (Ceta).

The largest group of undecided MEPs among Britain’s representatives are the Labour Party. The group seems split with advocates and critics of Ceta ready to argue their case.

On Tuesday, 12 general secretaries from Britain’s national trade unions wrote to the Labour MEPs to ask that they vote against Ceta. The letter is clear and persuasive and reproduced below. We hope this adds to the huge pressure to secure a no vote from the 20 Labour MEPs.

Dear Labour MEPs, We write to ask you to oppose the ratification of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta), the EU-Canada trade deal due to be voted on in the European Parliament on February 15.

We understand there are many concerns about Ceta influenced by Brexit and the rise to power of Donald Trump in the US.

Nevertheless, we must judge Ceta on its merits and the dangers it contains: Ceta gives vast new powers to corporations, including to any US business interests currently operating in Canada and the EU — which includes Donald Trump’s hotel business.

Ceta, like any trade deal, is meant to encourage growth. But even the proponents of Ceta have admitted that it may only generate a GDP increase of 0.03 to 0.08 per cent across the EU after 10 years.

Indeed, the only country-by-country impact assessment of Ceta shows it will cost 200,000 jobs and endanger trade between European countries. As the Employment and Social Affairs Committee of the European Parliament finds, “evidence shows that the agreement would contribute to widening the incomes gap between unskilled and skilled workers thus increasing inequalities and social tensions.”

The ETUC and the Canadian Labour Congress have expressed concerns that, despite the Joint Interpretive Instrument, Ceta still fails to address trade union concerns about the enforceability of labour rights. As such, trade unions across Europe and Canada join civil society groups in calling for a no vote to Ceta in the European Parliament.

Perhaps the greatest concern over Ceta is its investor-state dispute settlement mechanism. While the European Commission has rebranded investor protection as the “Investor Court System” (ICS) and introduced improvements including an appeal mechanism, the introduction of judges and greater transparency, ICS remains a a one-way legal mechanism to sue governments, bound by the same substantive powers for businesses.

Under ICS, big business can still sue for changes made to the regulatory environment that breach a company’s “legitimate expectations,” resulting in taxpayers effectively providing risk insurance for North American big business. Any government’s “right to regulate” will be determined by a “necessity test,” while investment is still defined in such a way (“the expectation of gain or profit”) that companies will be able to sue for future lost profits.

The treatment of public services in Ceta also sets a deeply disturbing precedent. Ceta introduces negative listing (“list it or lose it”) of public services to trade deals, pairing this with standstill and ratchet clauses which effectively make privatisation irreversible — without facing a legal claim under the deal’s investor-state dispute settlement mechanism.

This commitment is intrinsically undemocratic and against the interests of those who fight to defend public services and jobs in such industries.

Britain’s interests have been poorly defended in the negotiations of Ceta and as you know, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox bypassed the British Parliament to sign Britain on to the deal at EU Council level.

Appendix 20-A of Ceta lists 173 products known as Geographical Indicators, from Feta cheese through to Edam and Modena balsamic vinegar. Britain is unique among EU Member States in not protecting any of its products, whether Cornish Pasties or Cheddar cheese.

We are hearing much about possible trade deals in the future once we have left the EU, both in Canada and Britain. Ceta has been identified as a template for future British deals with Canada and the EU respectively. We therefore must ensure a progressive precedent for future trade deals which prioritises human rights, jobs and environmental rules. Ceta fails on each of these counts. We trust you will do whatever you can to defeat Ceta on the floor of the European Parliament.

In solidarity,

Dave Prentis, general secretary, Unison
Gail Cartmail,
acting general secretary, Unite
Tim Roache, general secretary, GMB
Mark Serwotka, general secretary, PCS
Kevin Courtney, general secretary, NUT
Manuel Cortes, general secretary, TSSA
Sally Hunt, general secretary, UCU
Mick Cash, general secretary, RMT
Dave Ward, general secretary, CWU
Mick Whelan, general secretary, Aslef
Mary Bousted, general secretary, ATL
Ronnie Draper, general secretary, BFAWU

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