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CETA update: No deal (yet) as agricultural trade-offs gum up talks

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There was no big announcement from the Harper government following high-level negotiations with European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht last week in Ottawa. A spokesperson for International Trade Minister Ed Fast said on Friday that "progress was made in several of the areas that remain outstanding. However, further important work remains to be done, and the process of negotiations is continuing." On Thursday, Gerald Keddy, the parliamentary assistant to Fast, told CBC's Power and Politics that the government will not put a deadline on concluding the CETA negotiations, but European sources suggest another ministerial meeting could happen at the end of February.

According to ThePigSite.com (I know), the agricultural trade-offs are delaying everything, which we've mentioned here before. "Europeans can't possibly give the amount of beef the Canadians are asking for. The Canadians are much more ambitious on the beef ask," said an industry source quoted by the website, which is sponsored by a list of pharmaceutical companies that make the stuff that makes North American pigs grow faster and fatter. (It makes you realize that Canada does not have a pork industry so much as it has one BioPorkTech2.0 industry and another, much smaller and hipper hormone-free version.)

The drugs are an important reason why European member states aren't interested in buying more Canadian meat. They don't horse around with this stuff (couldn't resist). But even if Canadian producers shipped them the good stuff, there's another hurdle. On January 31, the Irish Farmers Association said, "The agreement [in CETA] of large tariff-free volumes of Canadian imports will cause significant market damage for Irish exports into the EU, particularly for our important beef and pigmeat sectors. The price damage would be further compounded if the Canadians secure access for large volumes of high-value fresh and chilled cuts."

It's not total but only conditional opposition from Irish, French and other European farmers. The IFA president added that "There can be no one-sided deals, in which large volumes on beef and pigmeat are offered to Canada, while they offer very modest market access for EU exports, such as dairy products." (Ireland holds the presidency of the EU until July, and like many European officials the Irish government seems to be in a hurry to get CETA done with so they can move onto long hoped-for EU-U.S. trade negotiations.)

Meanwhile, Quebec continues to say publicly that supply management, for dairy in particular, is "non-negotiable." And Keddy seemed to suggest the same applied at the federal level during his awkward Power and Politics interview. But if Wayne Easter and Don Davies, the Liberal and NDP trade critics who spoke alongside Keddy, think they can rally Canadians with cries of "No more European cheese" they are not reading the tea leaves (or the news).

Supply management is the whipping post du jour of aspiring Liberal leadership candidates and the media elite, despite how much the dairy, egg and poultry industries contribute to Canada's GDP, subsidy-free we should add. If your goal is to ingratiate yourself to that crowd, you do not do it by urging the government to shut its doors to very tasty (if expensive) treats from Europe.

Transatlantic statement on investor rights

On the other hand, if your goal is to credibly challenge the Canada-EU deal there are other things to talk about. For example, the pointless danger of including an investor-state dispute settlement process that will let European firms punish Canada (and Canadian firms punish European countries) for trying to protect the environment and public health, or promoting truly sustainable economic development and trade. More than 70 European, Canadian and Quebec organizations representing more than 65 million people have signed a transatlantic declaration, released on Tuesday, against these extreme investor rights.

"We will vigorously oppose any transatlantic agreement that compromises our democracies, human and Indigenous rights, and our right to protect our health and the planet," it read. "We urge the EU and Canadian governments to follow the lead of the Australian government by stopping the practice of including [investor-state dispute settlement] in their trade and investment agreements, and to open the door to a broad rewriting of trade and investment policy to balance out corporate interests against the greater public interest."

Importantly to the CETA debate in Europe, the statement points out that both the European Parliament and a Sustainability Impact Assessment of the Canadian trade deal recommend against a NAFTA-like investor lawsuit process. "European and Canadian legal systems are more than capable of handling disputes between investors and governments in cases of serious wrongdoing or breach of contract," it says.

A press release about the statement pointed out that "In 1998, European and Canadian opposition to investor-state dispute settlement put an end to the planned Multilateral Investment Agreement, which would have extended these extreme investor protections to the entire OECD region. In the same spirit and in light of the rebirth of this failed corporate project in the Canada-EU trade deal, the European, Canadian and Quebec groups listed below 'demand that the EU and Canada cease negotiating investor rights and an investor-state dispute settlement process into the CETA.'"

Manitoba loses under CETA

Also last week, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a report by John Jacobs warning Manitobans about the restrictions CETA will put on economic development policy options, and the potential loss of 3,800 jobs.

"The think-tank, which says it focuses on social and economic justice issues, argues the deal could wipe out rules in provincial and municipal government contracts that set quotas for local hiring and purchasing," reported the Winnipeg Free Press. "The report also suggests any deal could add to an existing trade imbalance, which sees Manitoba export mostly raw material to Europe while importing finished products."

Jacobs explains:

The Manitoba government and manufacturing sector have initiated strategies to expand advanced manufacturing and to increase exports. CETA could derail these efforts. The removal of tariffs and the ability of governments to implement industrial policies could reinforce the export of primary and low value added commodities and undermine the province's advanced manufacturing strategy.

Summarizing some of the CCPA's other findings, the National Union of Public and General Employees writes that CETA could also "increase the costs of public services and curtail the ability of the province to deal with emerging issues such as climate change, economic volatility and new technologies," and "increase the costs of pharmaceutical drugs in Manitoba by up to $81 million annually." This is on top of the risk of expensive litigation under the proposed investor-state dispute settlement process.

When a conclusion is not the end

Earlier in the week, the National Post's John Ivison reported that "trade sources suggest a framework deal is sitting on the Prime Minister's desk, waiting for him to decide whether the terms are likely to cause him unacceptable political headaches." The CETA framework would include not just the agricultural options but also proposals for pharmaceutical intellectual property rights that even the federal government knows will make drugs more expensive in Canada.

Had things worked out for Canada and the EU, Ivison wrote that Fast and De Gucht were planning to "announce a summit between Mr. Harper and José Manuel Barrosa (sic), the EU president, to close the deal." That didn't happen. But it probably will -- eventually. Just like eventually De Gucht will (probably) get his U.S. trade negotiations going, despite a failure to launch during the EU trade commissioner's trip to Washington D.C. before his Ottawa talks, since EU leaders committed today to a free-trade zone.

For those of us hoping to Put CETA on Ice, it's important to remember that concluding the negotiations does not automatically mean they can sign a deal and that signing will not automatically lead to a successful ratification. The Canada Europe Roundtable for Business (CERT) acknowledged as much this week when the lobby group "urged negotiators to wrap up a deal soon, noting any agreement would have to be voted on by the European Parliament, which is due to hold elections in April 2014," according to Reuters.

We're into year five of this fight as Canadians turn to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Canada's Foreign Investment Protection Agreements, and the new Harper Americas strategy (FTAs, mining, security) as focal points for resistance to corporate- and profit-driven economic globalization. With luck and some hard work, we will remember 2013 as the year these struggles came together to seriously undermine the Harper government's unfair and unsustainable trade agenda.

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