EU and Canada’s deal CETA is set in motion, but stumbles in its first steps

EU and Canada’s deal CETA is set in motion, but stumbles in its first steps

After 8 years of negotiations, CETA is now a (provisional) reality approved by the EU and Canadian governments. We say provisional because now the accord needs several steps to progress. Firstly, it has to be ratified by the European Parliament; secondly, by all the parliaments of the 28 member states (and in some couneu-1232430_1280tries, also the regional parliaments). However, it will immediately come into force no matter when that process takes place.

But what is CETA? Literally, a Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement that eases the trade conditions to foster the commercial relations between the EU and Canada. It sounds good, and from the European Commission's point of view it will only bring benefits to both regions. However, just days before being signed, the normal course of the negotiations bumped into an unexpected obstacle: Wallonia.

This Belgian region refused to give the deal a green light unless some of its terms were first reviewed and changed. This 'setback' not only has made known the name of Wallonia, but also and more importantly, it has brought into the open the conditions attached to this agreement, of which we barely knew anything until then.



Wallonia has mostly opposed the ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement), a system that allows corporations to sue national governments in private courts whenever the former considers that the latter has incurred unfairness. "Unfairness", as per this article from The Guardian, means in this context that the firms wouldn't "make as much profit as they expected" because of Government decisions to, for example, "outlaw dangerous chemicals, improve food safety or put cigarettes in plain packaging". While CETA remains provisional, the ISDS won't be activated, states The Sunday Express.

There is still more: according to France 24 and AFP "the Walloons also obtained significant concessions to protect farmers, for example by preventing American companies benefiting from the agreement between the EU and Canada to flood European markets via Canadian subsidiaries". This sentence refers to NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement between the United States and Canada) and to the possibility that US-based food companies operating in Canada under this treaty could start exporting products to Europe from now on.


A third demand conquered by Wallonia would include the right to protect European farmers and producers by granting them subsidies in case of a crisis in one of their sectors. However, some European and Canadian ecologists, farmers and consumers groups are still concerned about the consequences this accord may have. In this joint report, they explain how CETA, as NAFTA, could lead to a dicrease of family farms, whereas corporate concentration would intensify, resulting in "larger farms, heavy and unsustainable chemical use, and weaker prices for farmed goods".

They also add the differences between the EU and Canadian standards in regards of food safety (Canada allows the use of growth hormones in animals, GMOs, chlorinated water and dyes), animal welfare, and environmental care, which would place European farmers in a disadvantaged position.



However, the EU confirms that CETA "will not change the way the EU regulates food safety, including on GMO products or the ban on hormone-treated beef". To clarify all the blurry points, a text called "Joint Interpretative Instrument on the CETA" has been recently released. In this document, we can find interesting sections such as that devoted to the preferences for Canada’s aboriginal peoples or that about the gains that the CETA will bring for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).


Cows - Photo by Peggy Marco

Particular cases of success of SMEs that will benefit from this agreement can be found here: a Spanish company that produces organic wine, and Sicilian tie maker that is about to live the American dream, or a Polish fruits exporter that will cross the Atlantic Ocean soon. Inspiring as well as convenient stories to present this agreement. But not much about those big companies that have undoubtedly pulled strings for this long-awaited day to come.



According to this report on Le Monde Diplomatique the agreement, in terms of what Canada will be able to export to Europe tariff-free, goes like this:

  • 45,840 tonnes of beef  without hormones (ten times more than until now)
  • 75,000 tonnes of pork without ractopamine, a growth hormone. This amount multiplies by 15 that of before the deal.
  • 100,000 tonnes of wheat.
  • 8,000 tonnes of sweet maize.

Aren't some of those products widely available in Europe? Despite its bright sides, the idea of moving these already existing products across the ocean, jeopardising the farmers working conditions on both ends of the Atlantic doesn't seem a very sustainable action, neither economically nor environmentally speaking.

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