Broad civil society coalition voice collective concern with CETA trade deal ahead of Trudeau visit

Published by Niall Sargent on

4th July 2017

A unique coalition of farming, business, trade union, civil society and environmental groups have voiced their collective concern about the proposed EU-Canadian trade deal in advance of tomorrow’s state visit by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The groups highlighted Mr Trudeau’s visit as part of a publicit­­­­y stunt to boost support for the controversial deal – known as the Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) – in advance of a vote by the Dáil to ratify the agreement.

In a briefing at Buswells Hotel, Co Dublin this morning, representatives from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association, the Environmental Pillar, the International Small Business Alliance, the Stop CETA Alliance Ireland and Comhlámh called for the rejection of the deal by the Irish Government.

The coalition said that while it recognises the importance of trade for a small open economy like Ireland, they are united in opposition to CETA as a “bad trade deal” that will compromise laws to protect health, food standards, farmers’ interests, the environment, worker’s rights, and the rule of law.

The text of the CETA was finalised last October and signed by representatives from Canada, the EU and its Member States following on a decision by the EU Council to conclude the negotiations and authorise the deal and its provisional application.

In February, the European Parliament voted in support of the provisional application of CETA, and the process of ratification has now commenced in 43 national parliaments and regional assemblies across the EU.

Three Member States have already voted to ratify CETA – Latvia, Denmark and most recently Croatia after only 3 hours of debate.

The coalition called for all political parties to engage with them before making any decision to ensure that there is a clear understanding of the “notorious” Investor Court Settlement (ICS) arbitration system included in the deal.

ICS would allow for a special system outside the normal court process which allows foreign big business sue sovereign Governments when their actions impact on profitability or expectations of profit, the coalition said.

A number of expert bodies such as the European Association of Judges, the Deutsche Richtebund, ClientEarth and academics have already highlighted issues with the legality of ICS under EU law.

Even the EU Trade Commissioner Malmström has acknowledged that Ireland is uniquely exposed by the ICS system as we have high levels of foreign direct investment and have yet to face such investment arbitration to date.

According to Frank Keoghan, President of the Technical Engineering and Electrical Union, the ICS system would “expose the citizens and workers of Ireland to footing the bill for huge claims against Ireland in the future”.

He said that CETA includes a “zombie clause” ensuring that even if a Party withdraws from the deal within an agreed 6 months period, it will remain exposed to claims under ICS for a further 20 years.

“ICS has the potential to impact negatively on our economy, our jobs, and our ability to invest in public services on a scale which dwarfs the recent bank bailouts and way into the future,” he concluded.

Attracta Uí Bhroin, facilitator of the Environmental Law Implementation Group (ELIG) at the Irish Environmental Network, also pointed out that the ICS provision would undermine the role of the national courts.

She added that the impact on the standard of justice “enshrined in our Constitution” by the ICS system has the potential to “dwarf the recent controversy over judicial appointments and the separation of powers”.

Anna Kavanagh of the Stop CETA Alliance Ireland also highlighted concerns with “regulatory chill’, a phenomenon whereby governments won’t take action to protect the public over corporate interests for fear of being sued.

“The negative effect on our economy and the interests of all our citizens is at stake and this concern is shared by all the sectoral representatives here today,” she said.

“This visit is another own goal by Prime Minister Trudeau as his visit finally shines a media spotlight on this awful deal, and it is key that the media pick up the concerns in the public interest before it is too late. ”

Seamus Maye of the International Small Business Alliance highlighted the recent recommendation from the Employment Committee of the European Parliament to reject the deal due to the potential negative impacts on the SME sector across the EU.

He also described CETA as “a corporate power grab masquerading as a trade deal” and that “there is no net gain from this deal for SMEs”, which account for over 67 per cent of employment within the EU.

ICSA President Patrick Kent also outlined the costs to the farming community, with the beef industry set to be hit the hardest by a trade deal that “offers absolutely no positives whatsoever for our livestock sector”.

“The last thing Irish beef farmers need is for more competition to be introduced when we are struggling to keep our existing markets,” he added.

Chair of Friends of the Earth Europe, Dr Cara Augustenborg, criticised Prime Minister Trudeau’s record on climate, and for adopting a “nationalist agenda that pits Canadian self-interest against the environment”.

She said that CETA could also put the recent historic ban of onshore fracking in doubt as the ICS system may allow companies to sue Ireland if the legislation “compromised their ability to make money”.

“CETA will impede our efforts to reduce fossil fuel extraction and fossil fuel use in the future by offering investor protection to energy and mining corporations without similar protection for environment and public health,” she added.

David Joyce of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions called on the Government to facilitate a full debate on the “anti-democratic deal”.

“[CETA] privileges investors over EU citizens and will lead to the opening up of key public services to privatisation. It could also harm labour standards and protections across the European Union,” he added.

Mark Cumming, the head of Comhlámh, the association of development workers, also outlined the importance of speaking out against the deal which, he said, will “undermine the Paris Climate Agreement and Ireland’s transition to a low carbon society”.

Comhlámh has organised a protest against CETA at 1PM tomorrow outside of the Dail.

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London