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No CETA deal, 'thorny' issues remain

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As I speculated in a recent blog post, rumours that the final outstanding issues in the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) would be concluded and a final agreement reached and presented to the meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council (Trade) have proven false, and negotiations are still ongoing.

As reported in Embassy this week: "There will be no final draft of CETA today, although good progress has been made," John Clancy, spokesperson for EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, confirmed on May 7. "The intensive work will continue with a view to wrapping up soonest, upon which, following further informal consultations with the Canadian provinces and EU member states, it can be expected that initialling will follow."

A press conference following the May 8 Foreign Affairs Council (Trade) shed some additional light on the state of play of CETA negotiations and the process moving forward.

Despite the fanfare around last October's announcement by Prime Minister Harper and European Commission President Barroso of an "agreement in principle" -- which opposition parties have called a "charade" to distract from the Senate scandal -- almost seven months later negotiators are still trying to reach a deal.

In a press conference following yesterday's meeting in Brussels, European Commissioner for Trade Karel De Gucht admitted, "To be quite frank, final technical discussions have proven to be more difficult than original foreseen. This is simply the nature of trade negotiations -- any negotiations in fact -- it really isn't over until it's over."

Despite the months-long impasse, De Gucht expressed the belief that a final agreement would soon be reached, saying, "But rest assured we'll get there in the coming weeks," adding that "There are not that many [outstanding issues] anymore. There are still three, four that still have to be resolved. A couple of them are a little bit thorny, so difficult to put a date on it."

An Embassy article quotes "a well-placed EU official" saying the thorny issues include "financial services, investment protection, maritime services, intellectual property rights and tariff quota management for beef and pork imports."

When (and if) the final points are agreed upon, De Gucht clarified that the final agreement will be given to the Member States of the EU for a period of three to four weeks to allow for comments. After that period, the deal will be initialled by both Canada and the European Commission, and the process of legal scrubbing and ratification by both sides would commence.

Another bump in the road for CETA is the dispute over where 'competence' related to some elements of CETA, including the controversial investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) process lies and whether or not CETA is a 'mixed' agreement to which Member States must also give their consent. The European Council insists that CETA is a mixed agreement, while the European Commission is waiting for an opinion from its legal service. It's an issue that may well end up in the European Court of Justice to determine.

According to Embassy:

"Behind the scenes, EU officials say the commissioner would rather leave the decision to the European Court of Justice, a move that could prove time-consuming.

The internal battle over competency is in fact a battle over the speed with which CETA could be ratified. If all 28 national parliaments have to approve the deal, the process could be significantly slowed down and could also be subject to political strategizing from various EU states.

Many member states have underlined that CETA, in its current form, does not reflect the agreement's mixed competency, French Secretary of State Pellerin said. France, as well as many other EU states, will continue to have "procedural reservations" over the text until they can be sure it highlights a mixed competency.

In fact, member states have not yet seen the final text, Ms. Pellerin said.

"We cannot give political consent to an agreement whose text we haven't seen," she said."

De Gucht dodged a question about whether the European Commission should wait for the outcome of EU-wide consultations on ISDS (which are open for public comment until July 6) before finalizing an agreement that also contains the controversial process, and expressed surprise that organizations and citizens on both sides of the Atlantic are increasingly voicing opposition to ISDS, saying, "I don't know why all of a sudden why everybody is interested in mixed agreements, and all that kind of things. And in ISDS. It's spring you know! Why do you all think about all those dull things? Think about other elements in nature."

Dull though it may be, the corporate rights that would be enshrined through investor-state in CETA are far too important to not be deeply concerned about, which is why we're spending spring continuing to build opposition to ISDS in Canada and in Europe ... as well as planning our gardens.

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