Visibly shaken, as Reuters put it, Canadian trade minister Chrystia Freeland walked out of EU trade negotiations in Belgium on Friday evening, lamenting that the EU is “incapable of reaching an agreement – even with a country with European values such as Canada.”
A big trade deal that had taken years to negotiate, mostly in total secrecy, had just collapsed. So how in the world did such a mega screw-up happen?
In Europe, all that is needed for the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada to come into effect, “provisionally” (in EU double-speak, more or less irrevocably), before being passed to national parliaments to vote on, is for the governments of the EU’s 28 Member States to sign along the dotted line.
This could usher in a new age of corporate domination, for CETA, just like its sister deals TTIP, TPP and TiSA, is not really a trade deal at all; it’s an investment rights deal that will effectively neuter the ability of national elected governments to regulate in the interests of their electorate.
Yet almost all of the EU’s national governments are firmly on board. Even the UK government has promised it will sign the deal, even as it prepares to negotiate a clean break from the EU. In Spain, there is no elected government, yet Rajoy’s caretaker administration has assured Brussels that it, too, will happily lend its signature to the agreement.
But the European Commission needs the signatures of all 28 nations. And to its mounting frustration, the Belgian region of Wallonia refuses to sign the agreement, citing a host of social, political and economic reasons, including the inclusion of an Investment State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause and the possibility of non-Canadian corporations using the deal to gain greater access to EU markets.