The Mouse That Roared

“The debate is about which globalisation we want,” Wallonia’s leader Paul Magnette said on Friday
 Today’s rather spectacular meltdown of the Canada-EU Trade Agreement (a.k.a. The Comprehensive European Trade Agreement, or CETA) is further indication that the pace and momentum of neo-liberal globalisation is stalling and now on the back foot. The tiny hold-out Belgian province of Wallonia effectively served here as the giant-slayer and the proverbial “mouse that roared”.

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”.


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.

12 responses to “The Mouse That Roared”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    The Wall St Journal has just come out with an analysis of the collapse of CETA in which they do mention the concern the Walloons had with the dispute settlement mechanism in the agreement. It mentions that the EU issued a 10 page document to reassure the Walloon parliament in respect of their sovereignty (ie, the right to regulate in the public interest) but I guess the Walloons weren’t buying it. I don’t know what was in that 10 page document of assurances, so I can’t say why the Walloons rejected that, too

  2. Scott Preston says :

    Have to say that this is really lousy reporting. We have no specific statements from Paul Magnette about why the Walloons killed CETA, nor specific details about the last minute “assurances” of the EU or the Canadian negotiator. This is not transparency, and yet we are expected to accept the remarks of the EC President that it was negotiated in goodwill, and with the needs of the public and the environment in mind?

    Well, as they say “show us the money”. Why the lack of transparency here?

  3. Scott Preston says :

    The Economist has just published it’s take on the breakdown of the trade talks “Tears over the collapse of the EU-Canada trade deal”

    The article specifically states that the deal killer was the investor-state provisions which allowed corporations to sue the public authority. So, it makes sense that Magnette would insist that it’s not the kind of globalisation that they want.

    The Economist berates this as an “insular mood”, when it’s no such thing, when perhaps they should have asked Mr. Magnette what kind of globalisation he DID want. That would have been more enlightening than all this hand-wringing and tear-shedding about the collapse of CETA.

  4. InfiniteWarrior says :

    There’s quite a flurry of writing about “the unholy trinity“(an apt title linked from your post in the WP reader).

    Locating reputable sources is never easy, but I wondered specifically on reading your post precisely what Wallonia’s objections to the “arbitrations or dispute settlement mechanisms” might entail. The search very shortly led me here: Who guards the guardians? The conflicting interests of investment arbitrators.

  5. Scott Preston says :

    This from the journal New Europe, which states that “According to Magnette’s speech in Namur at the Walloon parliament, arbitration issues and the settlement mechanism are still not satisfactory for his government.”

    This is going to have impressive knock-on effects, I think. The rejection was not based on nationalism, as it has been in other jurisdictions. The Walloon government acknowledges the value of globalism, just not the corporate kind.

  6. abdulmonem says :

    It is another story of ill ethos were profit is given precedent on the welfare of peoples, while the horrifying pictures of our oppressive world that are posted everywhere are neglected and leave no warning effects on the calcified soul of the nihilistic greed.

  7. abdulmonem says :

    When the governments the protector of the people welfare are sued by the investors for doing that, there is really really something wrong. One is confused as why the governments surrender that right and let itself be slaved by the investors who have been given the right to sue . Corruptions everywhere where the traitors of their governments allow such thing to happen, It is a dark world where the long and detailed analysis is no longer able to help solve the problem. Information overload has become as a detrimental tool instead of a clarifying one. Information has become a useless occupier of time for most people who are unaware of the hidden stories behind the appearances. The tragedy always befalls those who start reading outside the sphere of the one who taught humanity how to read both the seen and the unseen..

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      It is a dark world where … analysis is no longer able to help solve the problem.

      It does, at least, help to identify it, but one cannot fight a “Giant Vampire Squid”, the tentacles of which are obviously more far-reaching than Matt Taibbi was aware when he coined that phrase. The ideology driving it is nearly all-pervasive and all-consuming. The “contact your representatives and urge them to” (whatever) tactic doesn’t work because they’ve been persuaded into believing in it themselves. Prayer vigils and marching in the streets won’t get it done, either. The general consensus is that we have to starve it to death, but as Morpheus knew, “Most people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured and so hopelessly dependent on the system that they will fight to protect it.”

      Good to see it’s at least meeting with some resistance now. I take that as a good sign.

  8. Scott Preston says :

    Doug Saunders of The Globe and Mail often writes thoughtful pieces. But his column today (“The Walloon that roared”) bungled it, taking the typical tack that it was “isolationist” or nationalistic and about cows and pigs. Unfortunately, they just don’t seem to get it, but it’s pretty typical response of the liberals to the reasons for the failure of CETA.

    As noted, though, Magnette isn’t an isolationist. I pointed that out at the very head of the article with that quote. This is just not the kind of “globalisation” that they want. But market liberals it seems, can only imagine one kind of globalism — free market globalism. And they assume that there can be only one kind of trade — free trade.

    Nowhere does Saunders even mention, as the European press did, that it wasn’t so much about cows and pigs but about the right of the public authority to regulate economic activity in the public interest without threat or intimidation that they will be hauled up before a secretive “arbitration settlement mechanism” for doing so. This is the key sticking point in the objections to neo-liberal version of globalisation, ie, that these trade deals are little more than “corporate bills of rights”:

  9. Charles Leiden says :

    I like this analogy. The mass media is like the the nervous system of a body. Let’s say your hand touches something hot, but the nervous system is controlled by the same entity that is causing the fire. Humans are getting the wrong message.

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