The Mouse That Roared
“The debate is about which globalisation we want,” Wallonia’s leader Paul Magnette said on Friday
Still, try to find in the mainstream press the reasons why the Walloon public authority killed CETA and you might be frustrated in that. It’s as if the protestations and objections of the Walloon public authority to the trade deal were wholly beside the point, apart from a few vague mentions about the Walloons’ concerns for their beef and pork industry which, it seems, had very little to do with it. To even get a hint of why the Walloon parliament rejected the deal, you have to turn to the European press.
I had to turn to The Euobserver to get the skinny on why Wallonia refused to give its consent to the trade deal, which is where we find some rather more revealing statements than protectionist sentiments about their cows and pigs. There we read that the obstacle that prevented the Walloon public authority from signing on to the deal was concern about controversial “dispute settlement” mechanisms and the status of public services. In other words, it’s “globalism, yes”, but “neo-liberal globalisation, no”. The public authority in Wallonia expects to reserve the right to regulate the economy in the public interest, and not hand over their social destiny to transnational corporations — in other words, they want “fair trade” rather than “free trade”.
The NERVE! The IMPUDENCE!
But for some reason the press seems to find this concern about the public authority reserving the right to regulate the economy in the public interest to be wholly irrelevant — not worth a mention apart from the defence of cows and pigs.
We can read between the lines very well in The Euobserver when it is mentioned as follows,
“Faced with a growing popular opposition to free-trade deals such as Ceta and the in the works Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US, EU leaders insisted that “many millions of jobs in the EU depend on trade, which is and will remain a powerful engine for growth.”
They added that “EU trade interests include fully defending and promoting the social, environmental and consumer standards that are central to the European way of life, as well as the right of governments to regulate.”
A senior diplomat pointed to opposition to EU trade policies as part of “the growing contestation of the negative consequences of globalisation, of which trade deals are considered a vector”.
He noted that trade negotiations used to be on goods and market access and were mainly about the level of protection for producers. Now they are about services and environmental, social, consumers issues, and consumers and citizens are more concerned than companies. [my emphasis]
To regain support for free trade, the EU must “demonstrate that new agreements contribute to the regulation of economy that we need to have,” the diplomat said.
While TTIP had been the main targets of trade critics in recent years, the signature process for Ceta and Walloon resistance makes the EU-Canada deal a litmus test for Europe.
Ceta “could be our last free trade agreement, if we are not able to convince people that we negotiate to protect their interests,” European Council president Donald Tusk warned on Thursday.”
Well, apart from the frank admission that all previous free trade deals were concluded in the interests of the “producers” (ie, the private corporations) it seems some folks aren’t convinced that the new, improved versions of free trade deals do much better in defending the public interest and the commonwealth from a rapacious transnational capitalism. It seems they are having difficulty convincing the public that “new agreements contribute to the regulation of economy that we need to have” in terms of preserving public services, the environment, and the right of the public authority to regulate economic activity in the public interest overall.
It seems the Walloons are not convinced by such assurances, since they’ve already seen the consequences of unfettered “free trade” in other jurisdictions, especially as regards local self-sufficiency and especially the vulnerability of the public authority to “investor-state” arbitrations or dispute settlement mechanisms (usually, big penalties for prospective lost profits from government regulations).
So, I suppose, EC President Donald Tusk is right, in one sense. These agreements don’t interfere with the right of the public authority to regulate economic activity in the public interest. There’s just this caveat that they just have to be prepared to pay big penalties for doing so!
EC President Donald Tusk’s comments in the last part of the quote are very much the issue now: CETA “could be our last free trade agreement, if we are not able to convince people that we negotiate to protect their interests” rather than the interests of the corporatocracy. Could very well be the last gasp of unfettered neo-liberal regime.
Wallonia — proof of the Butterfly Effect, or that big things often come in very small packages.