As far as I’m concerned, Belgium’s Paul Magnette is an heroic figure. He has, almost single-handedly, tamed the rampaging bull of corporate globalisation and brought it to its knees, and has probably set a precedent for any future trade deals of this sort. If so, it effectively ends the era of neo-liberalism.
Today it was announced that a deal had been reached to overcome the impasse that prevented Belgium from concurring with the Comprehensive European Trade Agreement. A secondary Joint Interpretive Declaration was apparently leaked to the public that satisfied Mr. Magnette’s objections to CETA. And what’s in that Joint Interpretive Declaration is quite eye-popping, mainly for what it reveals about the initial and main text of the trade agreement, which really was “a bridge too far”.
The CBC, just moments ago, published the contents of the Joint Interpretive Declaration, detailing the concessions and amendments the EU and Canada made to satisfy the holdout province of Wallonia. Mr. Magnette and his parliament, having resisted incredible political pressure, have won, and have been completely vindicated by their opposition to the deal.
In order to understand what was in the original FTA (Free Trade Agreement) and Mr. Magnette’s objections to it (because the process has not been very transparent at all), we only have to read what’s in the leaked secondary agreement — the Joint Interpretive Declaration, as cited in the CBC report,
“CETA will not weaken our respective standards and regulations in food safety, product safety, consumer protection, health, environmental or labour protection. Imported goods, service providers and investors must continue to meet the requirements imposed at the national level, including applicable rules and regulations. The European Union and its member states, on one hand, and Canada, on the other hand, reaffirm the commitments made in terms of the European Union’s precautionary principle in the context of international agreements.”
The “precautionary principle” wins. This has often been considered an impediment to market liberalisation. But its inclusion here signals that it was not represented, or was deliberately down-played, in the original text.
“This joint instrument exposes clearly and unambiguously, within the meaning of Article 31 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, what Canada and the EU agreed on a number of provisions that were the subject of debate and concern… This concerns, in particular, the impact of CETA on the ability of governments to regulate in the public interest, provisions on investment protection and dispute settlement, and the sections on sustainable development, labour rights and environmental protection.”
This directly addresses the issue of constitutionality. No part of the FTA may be interpreted as interfering or inhibiting the right of the public authority to regulate economic activity in the public interest within the framework of the constitution. This was, perhaps, the core of Mr. Magnette’s resistance to CETA, and it’s quite stunning to think that it wasn’t even included or clarified in the main text of the FTA.
“CETA preserves the ability of the European Union and its member states and Canada to adopt and enforce their own laws and regulations to regulate economic activity in the public interest, to achieve legitimate public policy objectives, such as the protection and promotion of public health, social services, public education, safety, environment and public morality, social or consumer data protection and privacy, as well as promotion and protection of cultural diversity.”
This is the real eye-popper for what it reveals about what was NOT included in the original agreement. It effectively circumscribes what shall be considered as, and defined as, “the market” and what is off-limits to privatisation, deregulation, or commercialisation. It effectively limits the power of corporations and their sphere of action, and their ability to coerce governments to change law or to sue for lost profits. With this statement, neo-liberalism is effectively curtailed.
“CETA does not prevent public authorities from defining and regulating the provision of these services in the public interest. CETA will not require public authorities to privatize services and will not stop the expansion of services they provide to the public. CETA will not prevent public authorities from providing public services previously privatized or bringing under public control services they had chosen to privatize. CETA does not mean that a private procurement contract means that service is forever commercialized.”
This means that the commonwealth is protected, and is another limitation on the rights of private property and what shall be considered “the market”. And it’s stunning to think that this interpretation of the CETA had to be added in a secondary document.
“CETA does not oblige Canada or the European Union and its member states to authorize the use of commercial water if they do not want to. CETA fully preserves their power to decide how they use and protect water sources. Moreover, CETA will not prevent a reversal of a decision authorizing the commercial use of water.”
This addendum should set Canadian ears ringing because it suggests that the privatisation, commercialisation, and the marketing and exportation of water was on the agenda and is contained or implied in the original agreement. Why else would it be included in an “interpretation”? Of course, this leaves the door open to the possible future commercialisation of water.
Taken all in all, I’ld say it’s a stunning setback for the economic orthodoxy and for the momentum of market fundamentalism which is very likely to establish a precedent for any future major trade deals. It’s quite disturbing to think what was in the original text of the CETA before these concesssions were made and added in the Joint Interpretive Declaration which may have compelled public authorities covered by CETA to change their laws and possibly even alter their constitutions to align with were, principally, investor interests.
By holding out, and if this Joint Declaration is anything to go by, Mr. Magnette may well have finally tamed the beast.
Of course, nothing here prevents people from electing governments unwilling to exercise these reserved rights as guaranteed by the Interpretive Declaration and which might privilege investor rights and private property over social rights or the commonwealth. The wording is quite flexible, in that respect. It simply prevents “lock-in”, which has been one of the main objections to free trade deals.