As CETA comes into force provisionally, new cautions from Europe

Earlier this year, the Liberal government passed legislation in the House of Commons that paved the way for the full ratification of the Canada–EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). Today, it is celebrating the provisional coming into force of that agreement, stealing some thunder from the Conservatives who negotiated the bulk of the deal over seven years starting in 2008.

In Europe, however, 23 member states have yet to ratify CETA, which makes the Canadian announcement seem premature if not undemocratic. Many European countries are still debating whether CETA’s investment chapter gives private arbitrators too much power to decide the legitimacy of government decisions. Unlike the Trudeau government, they can see there is nothing “progressive” about an agreement that prioritizes corporate interests over the public good in the development of laws and regulations.

Actually, the verdict is still out on whether this part of CETA (its investment rules) is legal in the EU—a question put to the European Court of Justice by Belgium this spring. If the court says no, or if any one of those 23 countries chooses not to ratify the deal, it’s possible the whole thing could unravel.

As we have pointed out before, with provisional implementation, Canada has changed its patent protection system in ways that are expected to add $850 million a year to the cost of medications. Canadians already pay the second highest drug costs per capita in the developed world. CETA’s stricter intellectual property rules will more than cancel out the potential benefits to Canadian consumers of tariff elimination on all EU imports into Canada.

The Canada–EU deal also contains no binding targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, CETA hardly mentions climate change at all. Its protections for labour, the environment, and sustainable development are essentially toothless.

In these and other ways, CETA fails to live up to its “gold standard” hype for what is missing from the agreement. Despite a hastily cobbled together “understanding” on CETA, the text contains no effective general carve-out for public services, which are only shielded from CETA’s powerful investment and services obligations in a piecemeal manner.

A new series of reports out this week from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP Europe) and Greenpeace, and co-published by the CCPA, raise a number of public health issues in CETA that should give European decision-makers (and Canadians, for that matter) even more reason to question whether their countries should ratify the deal at all.

The reports focus on how CETA’s deregulatory provisions—related to standards, testing and certification, and a regulatory co-operation chapter—will be used by Canadian and European agribusiness to undermine European food safety standards, Europeans’ desire to know where their food comes from, and their aversion for cloning. In other words, the rules in agreements like CETA are as important, and we feel much more so, than the impact on trade.

As the summary of the papers states, the specific EU rules under threat in CETA include:

  • Restrictions on the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), growth hormones, and antimicrobial chemical rinses in producing meat. CETA creates new channels, beyond what were already available at the WTO, for producers and exporters to challenge precautionary regulations that put consumers before profits.
  • Country of origin labelling (COOL) rules for meat and other food products. A WTO panel recently ruled that a U.S. COOL policy violated the agreement on technical barriers to trade (consumers have no right, in other words, to know where there food comes from). As above, CETA is more pro-exporter than the WTO in several respects.
  • Future restrictions on cloning animals and their offspring, and their labelling and traceability in the European food system. This is an area where Canadian regulations are vague, but where there is government support for novel products such as GM salmon. Canada supports voluntary labelling in other areas, like GMOs, and could push that approach here and in Europe as well.

Now that CETA has come into force provisionally, Canadian and EU trade officials have a year to establish a committee and process through which regulatory co-operation activities, including the possible harmonization of food and product safety standards, will take place. We’ll be watching that process closely, for all the reasons outlined in our recent report with Forum Umwelt und Entwicklung, LobbyControl, and the Corporate Europe Observatory, which you can read here. For more on what this agreement could mean for Canada, listen to Scott Sinclair discuss CETA on CBC Radio’s The House.


Stuart Trew is a trade researcher with the CCPA and editor of the Monitor. Scott Sinclair is the director of the CCPA’s Trade and Investment Research Project.

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