Defeat this dangerous trade deal – union general secretaries’ letter to Labour MEPs

This is the full letter sent by the general secretaries of 12 trade unions to Labour MEPs over a controversial EU-Canada free trade agreement.

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 per cent 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 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” (ICS) 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, bounded 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

Mary Bousted, General Secretary, ATL

Gail Cartmail, acting General Secretary, Unite

Mick Cash, General Secretary, RMT

Manuel Cortes, General Secretary, TSSA

Kevin Courtney, General Secretary, NUT

Ronnie Draper, General Secretary, BFAWU

Sally Hunt, General Secretary, UCU

Tim Roache, General Secretary, GMB

Mark Serwotka, General Secretary, PCS

Dave Prentis, General Secretary, UNISON

Dave Ward, General Secretary, CWU

Mick Whelan, General Secretary, ASLEF.

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