Trade unions come out swinging against toxic EU trade deal with Canada

13 February 2017

On Wednesday the European parliament votes to ratify CETA, the Canada-EU trade deal, or not. The largest group of undecided MEPs amongst the UK’s representatives are the Labour Party. The group seems split with advocates and critics of CETA ready to argue their case. They will be meeting tomorrow, 14 February, to agree how to vote as a bloc.

Today twelve general secretaries of the UK’s national trade unions wrote to the Labour MEPs to ask that they vote against CETA. The letter is clear and persuasive and reproduced below. We hope this adds to the huge pressure to secure a no vote from the 20 Labour MEPs. This is the letter.

Dear Labour MEPs,

We write to ask you to oppose the ratification of Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), the EU-Canada  trade deal due to be voted on in the European parliament on February 15.

We understand there are many concerns about CETA influenced by Brexit and the rise to power of Donald Trump in the USA. Nevertheless, we must judge CETA on its merits and the dangers it contains: CETA gives vast new powers to corporations, including to any US business interests currently operating in Canada and the EU – which includes Donald Trump’s hotel business.

CETA, like any trade deal, is meant to encourage growth. But even the proponents of CETA have admitted that CETA may only generate a GDP increase of 0.03 to 0.08% across the EU after 10 years. Indeed, the only country-by-country impact assessment of CETA shows it will cost 200,000 jobs and endanger trade between European countries. As the EMPL Committee of the European parliament finds, “evidence shows that the agreement would contribute to widening the incomes gap between unskilled and skilled workers thus increasing inequalities and social tensions.”

The ETUC and the Canadian Labour Congress have expressed concerns that, despite the Joint Interpretive Instrument, CETA still fails to address trade union concerns about the enforceability of labour rights. As such, trade unions across Europe and Canada join civil society groups in calling for a no vote to CETA in the European Parliament

Perhaps the greatest concern over CETA is its investor-state dispute settlement mechanism. While the European Commission has re-branded investor protection as the ‘Investor Court System’ and introduced improvements including an appeal mechanism, the introduction of judges and greater transparency, ICS remains a a one-way legal mechanism to sue governments, bound by the same substantive powers for businesses.

Under ICS, big business can still sue for changes made to the regulatory environment that breach a company’s ‘legitimate expectations’, resulting in taxpayers’ effectively providing risk insurance for North American big business. Any government’s ‘right to regulate’ will be determined by a ‘necessity test’, while investment is still defined in such a way (“the expectation of gain or profit”) that companies will be able to sue for future lost profits.

The treatment of public services in CETA also sets a deeply disturbing precedent: CETA introduces negative listing (‘list it or lose it’) of public services to trade deals, pairing this with standstill and ratchet clauses which effectively make privatisation irreversible – without facing a legal claim under the deal’s ISDS mechanism. This commitment is intrinsically undemocratic and against the interests of those who fight to defend public services and jobs in such industries.

The UK’s interests have been poorly defended in the negotiations of CETA and as you know, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox bypassed the UK parliament to sign the UK on to the deal at EU Council level.  Appendix 20-A of CETA lists 173 products known as Geographical Indicators, from Feta cheese through to Edam and Modena balsamic vinegar. The UK is unique among EU Member States in not protecting any of its products, whether Cornish Pasties or Cheddar cheese.

We are hearing much about possible trade deals in the future once we have left the EU, both in Canada and the UK CETA has been identified as a template for future UK deals with Canada and the EU respectively. We therefore must ensure a  progressive precedent for future trade deals which prioritises human rights, jobs and environmental rules. CETA fails on each of these counts. We trust you will do whatever you can to defeat CETA on the floor of the European parliament.

In solidarity

Dave Prentis, GS, Unison

Gail Cartmail, acting GS, Unite

Tim Roache, GS, GMB

Mark Serwotka, GS, PCS

Kevin Courtney, GS, NUT

Manuel Cortes, GS, TSSA

Sally Hunt, GS, UCU

Mick Cash, GS, RMT

Dave Ward, GS CWU

Mick Whelan, GS, ASLEF

Mary Bousted, GS ATL

Ronnie Draper, GS BFAWU



Scotland: Good Food Nation or Fast Food Nation?


The politics of food is maturing in Scotland, with progressive proposals for a 'right to food' and for Scotland to become a 'good food nation'. But the UK government's plans for a post Brexit internal market across the four nations of the UK, plus a trade deal with the US, could threaten these positive moves towards healthy, sustainably produced food. 

Beware the rose-tinted spectacles and don’t bank on a fossil free COP26 just yet

Reports that the UK government may not accept sponsorship from fossil fuel corporations are falsely optimistic.

The glass is still half full: the second revised draft of the negotiation text for the UN treaty on transnational corporations and human rights

The United Nations’ (UN) process of creating a Legally Binding Instrument (LBI) to regulate the activities of transnational corporations (TNCs) and other business enterprises reached another stage on 6 August in the publication of the