The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta), an agreement between Canada and the EU which would see 98% of trade barriers abolished, is back moving again having had its progress stalled by a tiny region in Belgium.
After some protracted late-night sessions, Belgium found a breakthrough midweek, but nobody is taking anything for granted. Four pages of clarifications are being added to the 1,600 page document. These will accommodate plucky opposition from the region of Wallonia, whose defiance prevented Belgium's parliament from proceeding with ratification. Wallonian residents were staunchly opposed to Ceta which they believed would threaten labour, consumer and environmental standards. Wallonian farmers worry that the trade agreement threatens them with cheaper Canadian food imports.
Geert Bourgeois, premier of the Flemish region said: “This is a clarification. The actual treaty does not change.” Canadian foreign minister Stephane Dion commented on a visit to Paris during the week: “Once bitten, twice shy, we hope that the Europeans have agreed between themselves because Canada is ready to sign. If the news you announced becomes reality, it is excellent news.”
Others are less enthused and numerous protests have taken place across Germany and other EU countries, whose governments are intent on ratification without asking the opinions of their people. Greenpeace has said of Ceta, “Just like TTIP, it presents a great threat to environmental and consumer standards and undermines our democratic structures.” Environmentalists worry that the deal will accelerate the mining of oil from tar sands in Canada, one of the most polluting and carbon-intensive ways of extracting oil. Ceta is also seen as the thin edge of a wedge towards genetically modified crops and diminished food quality standards.
Irish MEP Luke Flanagan has described Ceta as a Trojan horse, a back-door through which conglomerates will try to flood the European marketplace with cheaper goods and services. In addition, aspects of the deal allow for the creation of a new legal system under which companies can sue sovereign European states if they feel that restrictions or regulations, designed to protect people from perceived lower standards, are costing them money.
Ceta has been in negotiations for the past seven years. Talks took place behind closed doors and little was known of them until recently. In light of the apparent failure of the TTIP trade talks with the US, Ceta has taken on a new importance for multinationals with designs on European markets.
[Image via Global Research]