The time has come: yesterday the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, better known as CETA, came provisionally into force.
The treaty redefines relations between the European Union and Canada in a number of areas, from agricultural and non-agricultural goods to services and investments, from public contracts and dispute resolution to sustainable development. Aside from toppling tariff barriers to trade between Europe and Canada, the treaty envisages the free participation of the citizens and enterprises of both parties in public tenders and the removal of the main obstacles to the reciprocal recognition of some professions, from architects to accountants.
CETA is the result of a joint cost-benefit analysis conducted in 2008. In 2009 the official negotiations began that led, four years later, to an outline agreement signed by the then prime minister of Canada Stephen Harper and the president the European Commission Manuel Barroso.
The green light from Europe, envisaged for October 30 2016, was blocked at first by Wallonia and had to be delayed until February 15 this year, when a vote by European Parliament marked a first step towards ratification of the treaty.
But since the treaty is a ‘mixed agreement’ between the European Union and its member states, it has to be ratified by 38 national and regional assemblies in the various member states before it can be approved.
But as of yesterday, the clauses in the treaty that impact on matters of European competence—the liberalization of goods, public contracts, non-tariff measures and geographical indication protection— are now applicable. Against this, the parts of the agreement for which national competences have been defined—according to the opinion on the agreement with Singapore expressed last spring by the European Court of Justice—will be applicable only once the ratification procedure has been completed by the EU and its 28 member states. The provisional application does not extend to the chapters of the treaty on sustainable development and commerce and labor or to trade protection measures.
In concrete terms, why should all this be of concern to us? As Monica Di Sisto, spokesperson for the Stop CETA campaign in Italy has explained, like other new-generation treaties (such as the notorious TTIP), CETA ‘draws its greatest advantages not from the knocking down of tariff barriers that slow trade between the two sides of the Atlantic, but from non-tariff barriers, namely regulations and product and process standards that, albeit generating extra costs for enterprises, often defend our health and safety.’
It is no coincidence that subjects who can in no way be accused of sympathizing with Stop CETA activists have reached the same conclusion. Suffice it to think of the report submitted two weeks ago by the committee of nine experts (international economists, environment specialists and legal scholars) nominated in July by French president Emmanuel Macron to analyze the effects of the agreement. The committee, chaired by Katheline Schibert, an environmental economist and a lecturer at the Paris School of Economics, was strongly critical of the text of the treaty and stressed its ‘lack of ambition’. The committee members also noted that ‘The chapters of the agreement relating to the environment have the sole merit of being there but contain no binding environmental commitments’.
There are no guarantees either about the climate, described as ‘the big absent’ of the treaty, insofar as the CETA contains no references to the climate agreement adopted at the Paris climate conference (COP21), fails to fix limits on the trade in combustible fuels, and makes no mention of the reduction of emissions harmful to the environment. This is why the experts are making new recommendations to the government with a view to a possible reopening of negotiations—unlikely as this is at the present moment—among which the introduction of a ‘climate veto’ to limit legal actions brought against climate regulations by enterprises. The most controversial chapter in the treaty, the one creating an Investment Court System, has also come in for strong criticism. The mechanism lacks balance: first, because the special court in question would treat states simply as defendants called to refund enterprises for profits lost on acount of unfavorable legislation; secondly, because uncertainty still remains as to the possibility of invoking the precautionary principle in future controversies.
In view of the fact that the precautionary principle formulated by article 191 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union envisages tighter limitations with respect to other international treaties, the concrete risk exists that health and environment standards will be lowered.
Slow Food is asking the Euro-MPs of the 24 European countries that have yet to ratify the agreement (only the parliaments of Lithuania, Croatia, Portugal and Denmark have done so to date) for a show of wisdom and respect for the methods and practices of democracy by not supporting ratification.