Trans-Atlantic activism

CETA would be a setback for food, jobs, public services, and the climate

José Bové is in Montréal this week to speak out against European trade deal
Photo: Mike Herbst. Oct. 2015: 250,000 march in Berlin against CETA and TTIP.

Proponents have called it a “gold standard” and said ratifying it would be a cakewalk. But despite the colourful spin put on CETA (the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement), the shine is coming off the deal for growing numbers of people.

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Note: This article is also available in the French edition of Ricochet.

Alain Bourbeau, executive director at the Producteurs de lait du Québec, said that losses to farmers under CETA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership could be as being as high as $30,000 per farm. A recent independent study by researchers at Tufts University found that CETA would cost 23,000 jobs across Canada.

It’s little wonder then, that Germany’s minister of economic affairs was in Montreal recently to do damage control on CETA in the wake of more than half a million people taking to the streets across Europe in September to protest the deal. Rallies will intensify in the coming weeks, particularly in France on Oct. 15.

CETA has sparked growing opposition on both sides of the Atlantic. This free trade agreement grants exceptional powers to transnational corporations and threatens public policy, including food sovereignty, quality public services, decent jobs, access to medication, local economic development, and meaningful action to confront climate change.

For some, global free trade agreements are synonymous with global cooperation. Criticizing CETA is seen as criticizing the great relationship that Europeans and Canadians have together, the common values, the shared history.

Since NAFTA was adopted, Canada has been sued 39 times by U.S. corporations and paid out over $198 million in penalties.

As a French European and a Canadian, we can tell you a lot about trans-Atlantic friendship: we’ve been friends and colleagues for decades. We have been cooperating without free trade agreements for decades. In 2001, we were tear gassed together at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City. Because of the work of the movement, an international group of activists managed to defeat the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

We are all for agreements, and trade in ideas.

But CETA is not that kind of agreement. It is about giving corporations new tools to accumulate wealth from everyone else by challenging government regulations they don’t like.

Lone Pine Resources is waging a massive investor-state challenge against the Canadian government through NAFTA to challenge Quebec’s moratorium on fracking in a fragile region of the St. Lawrence. This Canadian company is using its U.S. subsidiary to challenge the ruling. This is just a taste of what’s in store with CETA. The Canadian government has agreed to set up a special court for transnationals to sue governments with CETA.

Since NAFTA was adopted, Canada has been sued 39 times by U.S. corporations and paid out over $198 million in penalties. Canada is currently facing $2.57 billion worth of challenges, two-thirds of them related to environmental rules. These include challenges to bans on fracking, lawn pesticides, and the cross-border export of PCBs. These kinds of abuses will be an option for many more corporations through CETA.

The agreement contains a mandatory provision to enforce regulatory cooperation in order to harmonize standards between North America and Europe in areas as diverse as pipelines, financial services, labour laws, chemicals and food. It contains a provision for investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), which grants foreign companies in one jurisdiction the right to sue governments in another jurisdiction for financial compensation if their regulations and laws violate the investors’ right to profit.

There is something profoundly wrong with the current form of economic globalization characterized and protected by corporate-friendly trade agreements like CETA.

Do not believe those who say that the investment court system that replaces the original ISDS provision is a reform or an improvement. Setting up a “special court” for foreign companies not available to domestic companies or groups or communities is still profoundly anti-democratic and dangerous.

A recent report found that the investment court system would allow the most controversial ISDS challenges launched in NAFTA.

We need international agreements more than ever, but we don’t need CETA. We need agreements that improve our standards. Let’s have transatlantic agreements that prevent tax evasion — companies now use every possible trick avoid paying taxes on their profits. Let’s have Canada-EU accords to regulate financial movements, improve workers rights and prevent privatization of common goods like water.

There is something profoundly wrong with the current form of economic globalization characterized and protected by corporate-friendly trade agreements like CETA. Too few are benefiting; too much damage is being done to the natural world.

CETA must be stopped. And we need to go even further. It’s time to rethink an economic system that benefits only the one per cent. It’s time to put principles of cooperation and social justice at the service of a just, equal and sustainable vision for our collective future.

If ever there was a time for courage and a vision for a more just system of growing food, producing energy and trading across borders, this is it. Much rests on what we do now.

José Bové is a French farmer, activist, spokesman for Via Campesina, and Member of European Parliament. He will be speaking on CETA at Autumn of Action: The people and the planet before profit room at Centre St.-Pierre (1212 Panet, Montréal, métro Beaudry) on Oct. 11 at 7 p.m. Maude Barlow is the national chairperson of the Council of Canadians.

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