The CETA trade deal with Canada, which was opposed by over 80 Irish civil society groups, has been approved by the European Parliament. The deal passed by 408 votes to 254, with 33 abstentions. Irish independent MEPs Marian Harkin, Nessa Childers, Luke Ming Flanagan and Sinn Féin MEPs Lynn Boylan and Matt Carthy all voted against the deal, while Fine Gael MEPs supported it.
Lynn Boylan said she was “disappointed” but looks forward to the first Dáil debate on CETA. While CETA (Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement) was always likely to pass given the fact that most of Europe's large parties are in favour of it, there was still a chance last-minute arguments might sway undecided MEPs. An anti-CETA petition with over 3.5 million signatures was delivered by Friends of the Earth campaigners prior to the vote taking place.
The European Parliament vote was only one of a number of challenges facing CETA. Now it must be ratified in all of Europe's national parliaments. In the Dail this will be a stern test, given the absence of an enforceable whip across the present cabinet. The high number of Sinn Féin and Independent TDs offer unusually different approaches, with numerous members bills having passed during this government's term. We can expect a hot debate when the time comes, as so many citizens groups and NGOs are opposed to the trade deal with Canada.
CETA has upset those who distrust the implications of a deal that was negotiated in secret, only published and agreed without any public consultation or mandate. Its abolition of 96% of trade tariffs and the introduction of an Investment Court System (ICS) has alarmed civil society groups including An Tasice and Greenpeace. They fear that regulations introduced by national governments could be overturned by corporate-friendly courts with the power to award huge settlements to businesses for lost earnings.
The European Parliament put a positive spin on investor courts in a statement Wednesday, saying the ICS “aims to ensure government control over the choice of arbitrators and enhances transparency.” Pia Eberhardt of the anti-lobbyist Corporate European Observatory disagreed: “CETA is a huge gift to big corporations which gives them unprecedented powers.” Eberhardt added, “it is a sad day for democracy and the millions of Europeans and Canadians who have been demanding trade rules that benefit people and the environment.”
Farmers groups including the ICSA fear the dumping of cheap Canadian food into Europe and the lowering of production standards. There have been calls to have farming taken out of the deal altogether, given the direct payments system here would be seen as unfair to Canadian farmers. But as it stands they would benefit from provisions to allow 50,000 tonnes of beef and 74,000 tonnes of pork to be sold on EU markets. This has been predicted to result in a 16% drop in beef prices, though actual impacts are as yet unknown. It is also uncertain who will change their food safety standards as Canadian farmers have much more lenient regulations around the use of antibiotics and growth growth hormones. One thing igrowth hormones. One thing is certain, this deal is not home yet.