Resistance Grows To Inclusion Of Corporate Sovereignty In Canada-EU Trade Agreement (CETA)

from the just-get-rid-of-it dept

Remember CETA, the Canada-EU trade agreement, officially known as “Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement”? You could be forgiven for losing track of where things were with the negotiations, which have been dragging on since 2009, but a kind of milestone was passed recently:

Commission President José Manuel Barroso and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper have today reached a political agreement on the key elements of a Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) after months of intense negotiations between EU Trade Commissioner De Gucht and Canadian trade Minister Ed Fast. It will be the first free trade agreement between the European Union and a G8 country.

Despite that “political agreement”, there still remains plenty to be done, as this CBC article explains:

Some areas of the agreement still need drafting, while others need fine-tuning, reporters learned through a briefing. But the most contentious points have been settled. The agreement text then has to be drafted, run past lawyers and translated into 24 languages for the 28 EU countries to examine.

The document Harper and Barroso signed Friday is an agreement in principle and full ratification is likely two years away.

Although the CBC post claims “the most contentious points have been settled”, that’s not true for one of the most controversial areas: corporate sovereignty, officially known as investor-state dispute settlement — and resistance is building. For example, the European Trade Union Confederation, which claims to represent more than 60 million workers in Europe, “strongly opposes the inclusion of ISDS in CETA.” And as negotiations on the ISDS chapter begin, over 80 organizations have put together a “transatlantic statement” calling for the corporate sovereignty chapter to be withdrawn from CETA completely:

As European and Canadian trade officials meet again in Brussels today to continue negotiating an investment protection chapter in the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), transatlantic civil society groups are demanding that this chapter be removed entirely as an affront to democracy, an attack on the independent judiciary, and a threat to climate change and our shared environment.

The CETA “will include a controversial and unnecessary investment protection chapter and investor-to-state dispute settlement process (ISDS) that a growing number of countries are rejecting for good reasons,” says the transatlantic statement, which is endorsed by more than 80 organizations in the European Union, Canada and Quebec. “These excessive corporate protections, built into thousands of investment treaties and free trade agreements, serve no social or economic purpose other than to undermine our democratic rights to decide public policy and public interest regulation.”

The accompanying statement (pdf) provides a useful summary of why the inclusion of corporate sovereignty in so-called trade agreements is so worrying. Here are some of the main points:

CETA will permanently freeze existing rules governing investment and then strictly limit government regulation of services, investment, natural resources, environmental protection and public safety measures in the interests of corporations. All existing government policies in all these areas that have not been excluded from the agreement up front will be covered, making it difficult for countries to introduce new services or regulations in the future that affect however modestly the investment opportunities of foreign companies and investors.

In fact, changes to regulations are still possible, but the ISDS chapter means in practice that they will always be in favor of corporations, not the public. That’s because the intentional asymmetry of corporate sovereignty allows companies to sue a government for unlimited sums when they don’t like changes in regulations, but the public has no equivalent rights. This naturally encourages governments to listen to corporations and ignore its citizens.

There is no comfort in claims by the Commission or Canadian government that “frivolous” claims, or challenges to environmental policy, will be filtered out. Despite efforts in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to limit what kinds of government decisions might violate an investor’s minimum standards of treatment or other investment chapter protections, Canada continues to face investor-state disputes attacking environmental measures that affect national and foreign investors in exactly the same way (e.g. a partial moratorium on shale gas extraction in Quebec).

The declaration has a good explanation why this happens:

Likewise, we are not satisfied by efforts to limit the meaning of “indirect expropriation” so that legitimate public welfare objectives should be immune from investor challenges. The final determination is always made by the private investment tribunals themselves, and these unaccountable tribunals have a built-in bias toward the interests of multinational corporations.

Techdirt readers may recall that it was precisely this concept of indirect “expropriation” that Eli Lilly invoked when suing Canada under NAFTA’s ISDS section. As the declaration rightly notes, the lawyers who make up ISDS tribunals are inherently biased in favor of corporations because they can represent the same companies in other corporate sovereignty cases — an extraordinary conflict of interest.

Finally, the declaration points out why it is really important to remove the ISDS chapter from CETA before the final ratification:

Whatever the EU gets away with in CETA, including on investment protection, will just create a new ground floor on which multinational corporations will build even more.

The way all these agreements work is that they seek to take the results of previous treaties as a baseline, and then go beyond them — but always in favor of big business, never to the benefit of the public. That means one of the best ways of fighting corporate sovereignty in TAFTA/TTIP is to make sure it’s taken out of CETA.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or, and +glynmoody on Google+

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Comments on “Resistance Grows To Inclusion Of Corporate Sovereignty In Canada-EU Trade Agreement (CETA)”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Indeed, except they also listen to millionaires and billionaires to.

Someone once did a study of how responsive people in congress are to you depending on your wealth. They were extremely quick to respond to the rich in their districts, they were 50/50 on responding to the middle class, and were far more likely to ignore people who are poor.

Anonymous Coward says:

can anyone relate a case when a multinational, international or even local industry that was given certain rights, actually stuck to what was agreed? in every case i have read about, as soon as any company or industry is given an inch, it not just demands but actually takes a yard!
i’m still waiting with bated breath as to what shit de Gucht has installed in this ‘agreement’ as well. he is one for going down the ‘everything possible for corporations, least as possible for the public’ route. there has to be inbuilt something to do with copyright, as he was the main instigator of ACTA in the EU and has had ‘secret talks’ with Hollywood and the US entertainment industries! i wouldn’t trust him as far as i could spit!!
Canada is far from having the ideal copyright infringement outlook, but does at least have some sensible laws and reasonable fines. if de Gucht is in on the act, you can bet he wants to up the anti, and not because the EU wants that, but because the USA wants that and is going to use whomsoever they can within the EU to attain it! watch him, Canada and your arse! take this as a warning!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It is only USAs needs insofar, the cross-pond corporations agree, but since many of the corporations actually write the US laws in these areas, it is indirectly correct.

The Hollywood angle is thin. Most of what was in ACTA is a copy of the EU directive in the area. The problem is that the current directive is extremely unpopular. Copyright industry tried to pull a far harsher directive up, but it fell completely apart in the parliament. Other directives with relaxing of the directive has also been shot down.

Copyright is a very controversial topic in EU, with ECR pushing anything to strenghten copyright and the greens being against any such thing. The rest are more divided and possible to sway by national and corporate lobbying. The reason ACTA was close to passing was a result of unprecedentedly massive lobbying by companies and rightholder organisations.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

There is something to be said about the relative amount of laws getting passed, but there is absolutely a problem of “unproductive” in sheer numbers being seen as a bad thing.

Btw. I do not agree that “the only way they can make new laws is by going more extreme on existing laws”. The problem is that “international obligations” are forcing the laws in one direction. Where new laws are actually made it is usually micro management and should have been avoided to begin with. In these areas it is not really “extreme” laws in the words normal sense. They are just unnecessary.

Paul Clark (profile) says:

This Could End Very, Very Badly for Corporations

The current Canadian government is corporate-friendly. The next will probably not be as friendly.

With the rules being written into these trade agreements, the only out a government is going to have in the future is to call a corporate action that affects public safety or health a “terrorist act” and start the negotiations with a demand that the CEO and board of directors be extradited for prosecution. Anything owned by the corporation will be forfeit to the government and any challenges to the government’s actions are supporting terrorism. The only question is does the accusing government send in their equivalent of “seal team 6” when the CEO is not extradited.

Colin says:

Of course a corporation interests can never be in the public interest! They don’t employ anyone, now do they! They don’t conduct primary research, innovate and provide the services people, such as those on this comment board use do they? Such things as Internet provision, email, smart phones, the cars you drive to work in, the trains you ride to work in etc. Come on. Grow up children

Barni (profile) says:

Re: Colin

90% of all corporate shares are owned by the wealthiest 10% with the wealthiest 1% owning 40%+. The only reason they do primary research is so they have a fat ‘rent’ they can collect for decades – they don’t do it for the benefit of the general population, they do it for the financial benefit of their wealthy shareholders and extract the maximum ‘profit’. Obviously if there were zero utility for the general population the wealthy elites wouldn’t be able to collect outrageous rents (profits) of literally trillions of dollars for minor tax deductible investments in the millions. Corporations do employ people in Bangladesh for pennies and hour, in china for a few dollars a day etc. etc. I hope that being a troll for corporate interests pays well because you are selling out all of your friends, neighbours and fellow country folk.

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