EU Canada trade deal that gives corporations huge power shot down by Irish Senate

Published by Ian Carey on

Image: Senator Grace O’Sullivan GP at the protest against CETA yesterday. Source YFOE

October 6th 2016

The Seanad has voted against the EU Canada trade deal that the European Commission hope to bring in at the end of the month.

The vote makes the Irish parliament first in the world to reject the deal and Friends of the Earth are calling on the Taoiseach Enda Kenny to respect the vote of the Seanad.

This trade deal, the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement or CETA for short, is part of a new breed of trade deals that raise serious issues about the power of multinational companies.

CETA, if it is allowed to go ahead, will see companies able to sue countries like Ireland for bringing in laws that damage their profits. Examples of this include: tobacco companies suing for new laws against cigarette packaging and  energy companies suing over fracking bans.

The other huge downside to this deal is that it seeks to reduce other ‘barriers to trade’ such as regulations. Environmentalists, and others, have warned that this will lead to serious pressure on our health and environmental regulations as well as pressure on laws that protect workers. This will happen because the economy with the least protections for citizens and the environment will be at a competitive advantage.

Yesterday, the Seanad approved a motion calling on the Irish government to reject provisional application of the trade deal between Canada and Europe. Independent senator Alice Mary Higgins proposed the motion, which passed by one vote, having garnered the support of The Civil Engagement Group, Labour, Sinn Féin, and Green Parties, thus rejecting the position Fine-Gael led government.

The motion passed due to the abstention of the main opposition party Fianna Fáil. At the beginning of the October 5th debate, it appeared as if Fianna Fáil would support Fine Gael and reject the motion. However, impassioned and staunch senators won over Fianna Fáil with the moral weight of their arguments, offering numerous examples of how CETA would negatively impact Irish citizens and the environment.

On the eve of the debate, Friends of the Earth Ireland Chairperson, Dr. Cara Augustenborg briefed senators on how CETA would affect the environment:

“CETA is a global trade agreement designed to advance a corporate agenda above the rights of citizens or consumers. Whereas investors have a legally enforceable global mechanism to sue governments for lost profits through CETA, both the environmental and labour rights are exempt from sanctions. As a result, if our government wants to improve measures to protect public health, environment or public goods, we’re prohibited by potential legal action from corporations arguing such measures will negatively impact their expected profits. CETA will curtail our efforts to reduce fossil fuel use, increase community-owned power and transition to a low carbon society by providing a mechanism for corporations to block this urgently needed transition. Those who support CETA are not working on behalf of the people of Ireland but rather to fill the pockets of corporations.”

At lunchtime on the day of the debate, Young Friends of the Earth, The Comlámh Trade Justice Group and members of the public demonstrated outside Leinster House, providing information on CETA to passers-by and engaging with a number of TDs and senators including Catherine Murphy, Maureen O’Sullivan, Thomas Pringle and Séamus Healy. Senator Higgins and Senator Grace O’Sullivan also came to show their thanks for the efforts of the concerned citizens.

Meaghan Carmody, Activism & Education Manager at Friends of the Earth Ireland said: “The ‘new-generation’ of free trade deals are simply not about trade. The purpose of deals like CETA and TTIP is to remove and dilute legislation and regulations that were put in place to protect people and the planet – all for the sake of increasing corporate profits. Under NAFTA, the US is currently being sued $15bn dollars by TransCanada for stopping the Keystone XL oil pipeline. This climate-protecting move by Obama was seen as impinging on TransCanada’s ’expected profits’. This is exactly the type of scenario we can expect if we allow CETA to be signed into force. The news that the Seanad has rejected provisional application is a timely signal to the Irish government that there is fierce opposition to CETA in Ireland and they need to remember this at the all-important meeting of the Council of Ministers on October 18th.”

Friends of the Earth Ireland now calls on Taoiseach Enda Kenny to respect the Seanad’s CETA motion and hold a Dáil debate on the provisional application of CETA in advance of the European Council’s vote on October 18th.

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Ian Carey

Ian is the editor of the Green News. He works as Communications Manger with the Irish Environmental Network.