CETA a corporate-driven, “flawed” treaty, charges UN expert
The newly signed free trade accord between the EU and Canada gives undue power to corporations at the expense of national governments and human rights, says a UN rights expert.
by Kanaga Raja
GENEVA: The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the European Union and Canada is a corporate-driven, fundamentally flawed treaty which should not be signed or ratified without a referendum in each of the countries concerned, a United Nations human rights expert has said.
The UN Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas (United States), made this recommendation on 28 October, ahead of the signing of the trade agreement by both parties.
The agreement was signed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and top EU officials in Brussels on 30 October. However, in order for it to come into force, the deal will need to be approved by some 38 national and regional parliaments, according to a Guardian news report.
In a 28 October UN news release, de Zayas denounced the pressures that were brought to bear on the Belgian regional parliament of Wallonia, which initially said that it would not approve the treaty but later said its concerns had been met.
“A culture of bullying and intimidation becomes apparent when it comes to trade agreements that currently get priority over human rights,” the rights expert said.
De Zayas, in his previous reports to both the UN Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly, had warned that CETA is incompatible with the rule of law, democracy and human rights. He had substantiated how and why this was the case before the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
The rights expert expressed the belief that both CETA and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement currently being negotiated by the EU and the US give undue power to corporations at the expense of national governments and human rights.
“The danger of CETA and TTIP being signed and one day entering into force is so serious that every stakeholder, especially parliamentarians from EU Member States, should now be given the opportunity to articulate the pros and cons,” he said.
The corporate-driven agenda gravely endangers labour, health and other social legislation, and there is no justification to fast-track it, de Zayas warned.
“Civil society should demand referendums on the approval of CETA or any other such mega-treaty that has been negotiated behind closed doors,” the rights expert recommended.
He also said the EU should have heeded expert warnings and strong civil society opposition to CETA.
Specific concerns expressed by de Zayas over CETA cover, among others, provisions which he said could hamper states’ regulatory powers and could allow investor companies to sue over legislation affecting profits, even in cases where the laws were designed to protect workers’ rights, public health or the environment.
States should not sign the agreement unless their powers to regulate and legislate in the public interest are fully safeguarded and the so-called “investment protection” chapter is removed, he underlined. “This chapter creates privileges for investors at the expense of the public,” said de Zayas.
He noted that the new text may slightly amend this chapter. However, he emphasized that the Investment Court System (ICS) is similarly incompatible with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which requires legal cases to be heard by transparent, accountable and independent public tribunals.
“The associations of German and Spanish judges have already decried this kind of investor-State dispute settlement, which is a one-way street, and also discriminates against domestic enterprises.”
Moreover, he said, the ICS is not necessary when all participating states are parties to the ICCPR and already have public courts that are independent, transparent and accountable.
“CETA – along with most trade and investment agreements – is fundamentally flawed unless specific provision stipulates that the regulatory power of States is paramount and must not be impacted by a regulatory chill.”
“It must also be clear that in case of conflict between commercial treaties and human rights treaties, it is the latter that must prevail,” said the rights expert.
Treaty on transnational corporations
He pointed out that there was now a strengthened case for a legally binding instrument on corporate social responsibility which obliges transnational corporations not to interfere in the internal affairs of states and imposes sanctions when they pollute the environment or shift their profits into tax havens.
In this context, the rights expert drew attention to the intergovernmental working group on transnational corporations which was established by the UN Human Rights Council and which held its second session here in October (see box on previous page).
De Zayas, who has participated in this working group, urged the prompt adoption of a treaty that makes the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights legally binding and enforceable.
The rights expert also said it was time to discuss the secrecy surrounding the drawing up of CETA, in violation of state obligations to ensure open access to information, and the anomaly that much of the information about the treaty became available only through whistleblowers.
“The constitutionality of the CETA and TTIP agreements should be tested before the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, and the human rights aspects before the European Court of Human Rights, which could be called upon to issue interim measures of protection,” de Zayas said. “National courts should also test the compatibility of the agreements with national constitutions.”
“There is a legitimate fear that CETA will dilute environmental standards, food security, and health and labour protection,” he said.
“A treaty that strengthens the position of investors, transnational corporations and monopolies at the expense of public interest conflicts with the duty of States to protect all people under their jurisdiction from internal and external threats.”
The rights expert also said that the EU should have paid greater attention to a warning from a committee of Members of Parliament from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development had said earlier in October that CETA imposed unacceptable restrictions on the legislative powers of national parliaments, and had called for the signing to be postponed. (SUNS8345)
Third World Economics, Issue No. 628, 1-15 November 2016, pp10-11