CETA’s specter of corporate dictatorship still haunts Canada, EU

The most tepid of blows for democracy was struck this week when the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, reversed himself and declared that the parliaments of the EU member states will vote on the “free trade” deal with Canada after all. Only a week earlier, President Juncker had dismissed the idea of any democratic input, insisting that the deal would be unilaterally approved by EU ministers.

The earlier intended diktat was no aberration, and the hasty reversal is much more a cosmetic exercise in public relations than a new-found respect for public opinion. The public has been excluded from the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union from the start. There are reasons for that, centering on CETA being indistinguishable from the various “free trade” deals under way and, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, one that goes beyond even the North American Free Trade Agreement.

President Juncker first said on June 28 that there was no need for ratification by European parliaments — although he graciously conceded that EU governments  could “scrutinize” the CETA text. The problem, he said, was that “allowing national parliaments to have a say in the agreement will paralyze the process and put the bloc’s credibility at stake,” reported Deutsche Welle. Well, we can’t have messy democracy get in the way of corporate wish lists, can we?

Ottawa from the McKenzie Bridge (photo by Siqbal)

Ottawa from the McKenzie Bridge (photo by Siqbal)

Deutsche Welle reported on July 5 that Germany and France had insisted parliamentary votes be taken, with the German economy minister, Sigmar Gabriel, saying publicly that President Juncker’s comment was “incredibly stupid” and “would stoke opposition to other free trade deals.” No opposition to CETA here; merely discomfort that the lack of democracy had become too blatant. So it would be unrealistic to expect the Bundestag or any other parliamentary body to vote in the interest of their citizens without much more popular pressure being applied.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the Canadian government is putting a happy face on what will be a longer process than expected, saying the European reversal was “expected.” International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland has has gone so far as to declare CETA a “gold-plated trade deal.” The government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has followed a path very similar to that of U.S. President Barack Obama, quickly making a couple of easy gestures, such as installing a gender-equal cabinet, but allowing almost all of Stephen Harper’s draconian laws to stay in place. Pushing for CETA’s passage, despite its being negotiated in secret by the Harper régime, is consistent with that path.

Consultation process is window-dressing

The European Commission’s antipathy to democracy is also par for the course. The EU trade office, the European Commission Directorate General for Trade, set up a process of public consultation, but seems to have not paid any attention to it. A spokesman for the watchdog group Corporate Europe Observatory said of this window-dressing “consultation”:

“The Commission is not really serious about its own consultation. It’s more about image than substance. … I think those who chose to respond to the Commission’s consultation are being ridiculed.”

The “consultation” that counted during negotiations was that of multi-national corporations. As is standard with “free trade” agreements, laws and regulations that protect health, workplace standards and the environment will be considered barriers to trade, and ordered removed by secret tribunals with no accountability. Here again we have a farce. Following the conclusion of CETA negotiations, the German and French governments wanted changes made to the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism that enables corporations to challenge governments (but not the other way around).

Grand Place, Brussels (photo by Wouter Hagens)

Grand Place, Brussels (photo by Wouter Hagens)

Did Berlin and Paris suddenly decide that ceding their sovereignty to secret tribunals, in which corporate lawyers who specialize in representing multi-national corporations sit in judgment, was maybe a bad idea? Not really. This was, like the entire process, a public relations problem. So instead of the traditional three-member tribunal picked from a roster created by an established corporate-aligned arbitration body, as is the case with complaints filed under NAFTA rules, CETA would have its own 15-member permanent tribunal. And, as an added bonus, there will even be an appeals tribunal. But who will sit on these two bodies? None other than the same corporate lawyers who would otherwise hear such cases.

Here’s the relevant passage, buried deep in the CETA text, at Article 8.26:

“The Members of the Tribunal … shall have demonstrated expertise in public international law. It is desirable that they have expertise in particular, in international investment law, in international trade law and the resolution of disputes arising under international investment or international trade agreements.”

Building on NAFTA’s anti-democratic principles

No different from the qualifications deemed necessary in existing “free trade” agreements or those proposed in the Trans-Pacific and Transatlantic partnerships. The wording guarantees that corporate lawyers or academics who specialize in existing tribunals and who have adopted the mindsets of their clients will adjudicate these decisions — in other words, a steady stream of decisions elevating the right of a corporation to make the maximum possible profit above all other human considerations. This dynamic has to led to NAFTA becoming a lose-lose-lose proposition for working people in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, and CETA will accelerate this trend.

A report on the ramifications of CETA, prepared by Maude Barlow, says:

“With CETA and TTIP, for the first time, subnational governments (municipalities, provinces and states) will be subject to local procurement commitments that bar them from favouring local companies and local economic development. According to an analysis from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, this will substantially restrict the vast majority of local governments in North America and Europe from using public spending as a catalyst for achieving other societal goals — from creating good jobs, to supporting local farmers, to addressing the climate crisis.”

Regulations would be “harmonized,” meaning reduced to the lowest level of protection that can be found, and likely lower than that. Ms. Barlow writes:

“CETA commits to a process whereby any differences in regulations between Europe and Canada, be they labour rights, environmental protection standards, food safety rules or tax laws, could be considered an obstacle to trade and suppressed. Both parties agree to share information of contemplated or proposed future regulations with one another even before they share them with their own elected parliaments in order to ensure they are not trade distorting. That means the other party could make changes to a piece of legislation before it has been seen by its own elected officials or the public.”

Pressure will be brought to bear to privatize water systems and other public utilities, and pharmaceutical prices for Canadians will rise significantly — costing as much as C$1.6 billion per year. As is customary with “free trade” agreements, there are no limitations on who or what constitutes an “investor.” The rights of corporations are delineated over hundreds of pages, but the chapters that deal with labor, health, safety and environmental standards use the usual provisional language. For example, in Chapter 21.7, “The Parties endeavour to cooperate and to share information on a voluntary basis in the area of non-food product safety.” When it comes to corporate demands, however, “must” and “shall” are the words used.

CETA, like its cousins TTP and TTIP, would cement into place the right of multi-national corporations to dictate to governments without any democratic input. This would be irreversible. Worse, the approval of CETA would provide fresh momentum for TPP and TTIP. We have no time to waste.

4 comments on “CETA’s specter of corporate dictatorship still haunts Canada, EU

  1. Prole Center says:

    “…in the new exuberant aggressiveness of world capitalism we see what communists and their allies held at bay.” – Richard Levins

    Not only did the Soviet Union and other socialist countries provide diplomatic, economic and military support to national liberation movements throughout the third world, but its example of what a decent society could look like put pressure on capitalist governments to at least provide a welfare state of some kind for its citizens, especially in Europe.

    In socialist countries there was no homelessness, employment was guaranteed and there was free education through university level and free healthcare for all.

  2. newtonfinn says:

    As has been noted here and elsewhere, the EU crushed Greece, immiserating its people and siphoning off its resources, to keep interest flowing on national “debts” so massive that they can never be repaid, and to prop up, for the short run, the illusion that the entire global economic system remains viable and has not already devolved into a bankrupt house of cards.

    The only thing holding up the “value” of fiat money, which the global financial vampire uses to feed, is the willingness, however reluctant, of nations to sacrifice their citizens through cruel austerity measures and to sell off precious, sometimes priceless public assets. These acts of citizen and cultural rape are permitted by governments to make the interest payments that facilitate the illusion of the financial sector’s viability and thereby enable these governments to obtain, in a negative-feedback loop, continuing access to phantom fiat money. This charade exists for only two purposes: to make a sliver of humanity obscenely rich at the expense of the rest, and to deflect attention from the irreversible, real world collapse of global capitalism in 2008.

    “In the waning days of WW II during a discussion of the future of Eastern Europe, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill cautioned Joseph Stalin to consider the views of the Vatican. To this the Soviet leader responded ‘How many divisions does the Pope of Rome have?’” While acknowledging that Stalin morphed into a monster responsible for the death of millions (and thereby doing incalculable harm to the cause of communism), his question is more relevant today than when he asked it. Would the US military or NATO or any other large military force invade, conquer, and occupy a country that defaulted on its so-called debts, thereby supplying “divisions” to the banks and financial institutions which the Pope lacked? A long, long history of national debt defaults says probably not.


    Thus, it would seem obvious that the answer to our pathetic plight of personal and national debt-slavery is to turn away from the idol of globalism and return to the ideal of national and regional self-sufficiency in providing the essentials of life: water, food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, education, etc. Transnational trade and commerce can enhance independence, instead of fostering dependence, only when a country or region retains the wherewithal to engage in it or not engage in it voluntarily, which means that such trade and commerce should be focused, to the maximum extent possible, only on expendable luxuries.

    When nations and regions have re-established their self-sufficiency in essentials, they will find themselves asking Stalin’s question, not about the Pope but about the global banks and investment firms that milk the “fiat money for debt” system, which not only has led to mass impoverishment, obscene wealth distribution, and environmental catastrophe, but has also brought a temporary halt to human progress by attempting to perpetrate the vilest of crimes: the breaking of the human spirit.

    • Banking should be reduced to a public utility, with no speculation of any kind. There are proposals out there to bring banks under public control. It can be done. The Federal Reserve spent $4.1 trillion on its “quantatative easing” programs, and the central banks of Britain, the eurozone and Japan have spent more than another $2 trillion on theirs. What could we have done had that been spent on the public good?

    • Prole Center says:

      You have misquoted Stalin and taken his comments out of context it would seem. This happens a lot. According to Wikiquote:

      ” ‘The Pope! How many divisions has he got?’

      “Said sarcastically to Pierre Laval in 1935, in response to being asked whether he could do anything with Russian Catholics to help Laval win favour with the Pope, to counter the increasing threat of Nazism; as quoted in The Second World War (1948) by Winston Churchill vol. 1, ch. 8, p. 105.”

      I like this quote of Stalin’s much better:

      “What would happen if capital succeeded in smashing the Republic of Soviets? There would set in an era of the blackest reaction in all the capitalist and colonial countries, the working class and the oppressed peoples would be seized by the throat, the positions of international communism would be lost.”

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