Is Canada-EU trade getting bogged down?

Controversy over certain provisions of the free-trade deal come as a “significant surprise” to Canada’s lead negotiator



Here’s a surprise from the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita (I read ’em all): An interview with Steve Verheul, Canada’s lead negotiator for the Canada-EU trade treaty known as CETA. There were many signing ceremonies for this treaty over the last months of Stephen Harper’s tenure as prime minister, but there’s been less news about the treaty’s fate since all the pomp and circumstance faded.

Verheul’s interview suggests not everything is hunky-dory. At issue, as anyone could have predicted (and Maclean’s did 10 months ago), is the so-called “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) provisions in the trade deal. Here’s a random blog post from the nationalist Council of Canadians on ISDS provisions. Such concerns have been raised in mirror fashion by any number of trade-skeptical NGOs in Europe.

Canada’s embassy in Warsaw was kind enough to have Verheul’s interview translated; here it is, large enough to read. And here’s what stands out from Verheul’s comments:

“We do not think the agreement needs to be renegotiated. We would like to avoid this. However, we are aware of the fact that ISDS is being debated in Europe. We are open to dialogue on this matter, including some amendments to the contents of CETA, provided that this does not cause the ratification process to be considerably delayed.”

Verheul also says the so-called “legal scrubbing” to ensure the treaty’s legal text matches negotiated positions is taking “a bit longer than assumed.” But scrubbing’s nearly done, and will be followed by translation into all the EU’s many official languages, and then by ratification, first at the community level, and then by national parliaments.

That’s where this ISDS business could cause real trouble. Benefits from enhanced trade are diffuse and not always easy for citizens to notice. Concerns about national sovereignty are localized and easy for NGOs to provoke. A bottleneck in, say, the German or Greek or Hungarian parliament could spell trouble for the whole treaty. Verheul calls the heated debate over ISDS in CETA—and especially in TTIP, the far larger and more delicate EU-USA trade deal now being negotiated—”comes as a significant surprise to me.”

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Is Canada-EU trade getting bogged down?

  1. That’s the thing, though-ISDS provisions transfer power to unelected, unaccountable trade bureaucrats who have no means of being kept accountable, and have no constitutional authority or limits on their authority?

    Conservative writers have complained for years about the “judicial activism” exercised through the “Court Party”, a group of activists who use court rulings to achieve what they can’t get elected legislatures to pass. The thing is, though, Canadian judges have a solid basis in the Constitution for what they do, and we have safeguards like the notwithstanding clause so elected officials have the last word on the matter.

    However, we now have big businesses suing governments for making decisions, if not simply using the threat of lawsuits, under ISDS, to get the changes and decisions they want. Issues like wind farming in Ontario and fracking in Quebec are taken out of the hands of elected, accountable legislatures, and into a closed courtroom to be discussed by trade lawyers who, according to some reports, are in a huge conflict of interest by being the referees in some of these disputes, and acting for one of the parties in the other.

    Of course, anybody who raises concern about this often seems to be immediately attacked as hating trade, being a capitalism-hating Marxist, etc. I’ve rarely heard many complaints about the reduction of tariffs and duties-most of the complaints centre more around the worrying amount of power transferred into the hands of unelected, unaccountable and largely faceless trade bureaucrats, again with no Constitutional sanction or safeguards.

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