19 October 2016
Trade Minister Liam Fox has agreed to sign a controversial trade deal between the EU and Canada – the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) – before MPs were given the opportunity to debate it in the Commons.
Activists, campaigners and legal professionals have warned that CETA could lead to creeping privatisation in the UK and provides the potential for transnational corporations to take legal action against governments that implement regulations that impede on their profit margins.
The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and European Trade Union Congress (ETUC) released a joint statement earlier this year warning that the deal provided only “mild” protections for workers, with no enforcement mechanisms in place, and does not include adequate protection for public services.
Last month, Professor Keith Ewing, President of the IER, warned a Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights that “all it [CETA] does is set aspirations” for fundamental workers’ rights, warning that international free trade deals could become a major obstacle to human rights after the UK leaves the EU.
“The aspirations are that we promote health and safety and acceptable minimum standards for wage earners, but that is a long way from the rights that people have under EU law at the moment and that can be enforced before our domestic courts and, ultimately, before the European Court of Justice,” he said.
In a letter to Parliament’s European Scrutiny Committee dated 06 October 2016, the Secretary of State said: “In this case, the Parliamentary timetable is such that it would be difficult to schedule a debate ahead of the 18 October extraordinary Council on Foreign Affairs (Trade) where Member States will be required to confirm their agreement to sign CETA.”
Last week (12 October), the European Scrutiny Committee waived the government’s commitment to parliamentary scrutiny on the condition that the Minister “urgently” schedule a full parliamentary debate before the provisional application of the CETA deal next Spring.
The deal will be signed on 27 October 2016 and some elements will be applied in 2017, excluding the controversial Investment Court System (ICS) – the means by which private companies could potentially sue governments for introducing policies that limit their profits.
Full application of the deal will not occur until it has been ratified by all member states at a later date.