·  Media Release   ·  

CETA is Not a Model for a Progressive Trade System

The following is a media release from Workers Uniting.

If the trade union movement is to truly advance a progressive trade agenda, we must be clear that our current trade agreements, including the recently signed Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the EU (CETA), do not present any kind of model for trade that will protect workers and the environment. 

In this light, it is disappointing to read the joint statement the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the German Trade Union Federation (DGB) and the General Labour Federation of Belgium (FGTB) posted on December 8.

The joint statement begins by noting, correctly, that economic globalization has led to lowered wages, eroding working conditions, privatization, weakened environmental standards and growing inequality. The joint statement notes that modern trade and investment agreements have negatively affected the working lives of millions workers.

The statement also points out that the text of CETA, when first released, was “not a good deal” for workers. However, the joint statement then proceeds to defend and rationalize a terrible agreement for workers on both sides of the Atlantic.

The statement contends that the labour movement had “real influence” on the negotiation of the CETA. Given that the text of the CETA as first proposed has not changed at all, one must ask where is the evidence of this alleged influence?

The statement then goes on to note that trade union concerns have been “incorporated into the legally binding interpretive instrument of the agreement.” This is simply untrue – the interpretive instrument was drafted to address some of the concerns of trade unions and civil society groups, but it is not legally binding, at least not according to a legal opinion prepared for Canadian civil society groups. The DGB's own analysis, published on December 2, concludes that such instruments "create no change or improvement in the CETA rules themselves."

The joint statement also observes that these agreements need to allow for the effective enforcement of labour and environmental standards, while failing to note that CETA does neither.

Finally, the joint statement comments that the changes to CETA prove that the labour movement can “fight back and make a difference” and that we must continue to work together to further improve the deal. This seems like wishful thinking at best – all parties have agreed that the text of the agreement will not be changed.

Here is the reality: The labour movement made five key demands regarding the necessary changes to CETA before it could be considered an acceptable trade deal. These demands were: first, the removal of all investor rights rules; second, clear language in the agreement to protect public services from privatization; third, the repeal of the provisions which extend pharmaceutical patent protections; fourth,  provisions in the agreement which would protect procurement across all services and sectors and fifth,  a real mechanism which would protect labour and environmental rights.

NONE of these demands have been met. Without these changes, CETA remains fundamentally flawed and must be defeated.

If the negotiators from Canada and the EU had met these 5 basic demands, then we would have had some basis for a discussion about a truly progressive trade and investment deal. However, all we have is the same CETA text that was initially negotiated by the parties, and roundly condemned on both sides of the Atlantic by trade unions and civil society groups.

The joint statement is correct about one thing: Canadian and European workers value fair trade. However, if we are really going to achieve a truly progressive trade regime that benefits workers, protects public services and maintains high environmental standards, then a good first step would be to take a principled approach to CETA and call it what it is: an anti-worker agreement that will accelerate the trend towards growing inequality, privatization and deregulation.

Workers Uniting is the international union created by Unite, the biggest union in the U.K. and Republic of Ireland, and the United Steelworkers, North America’s largest private sector union.

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