Trade deals still on the Brussels agenda – we say no!
Despite the Prime Minister’s mantra that “Brexit means Brexit”, the UK is still engaged in negotiating so-called trade deals as part of the EU, so yesterday, the TUC sent a small delegation to Brussels to take part in the Belgian union movement’s protests against the EU-Canada deal (CETA) and the EU-US deal (TTIP). Some of us took the opportunity to visit the UK permanent representation to the EU (known as UKREP – basically our embassy to the EU) to lobby the British government on CETA, which could be ratified as soon as next month when Canadian PM Justin Trudeau visits Brussels.
Our arguments against CETA haven’t changed. Its provisions on investment protection (despite a whitewash forced on the European Union by popular protests against ISDS) are a massive threat to public services and government regulation of consumer, environmental and worker protections. There are also more direct threats of privatisation and marketisation of public services. And there is a completely inadequate defence mechanism for workers’ rights (basically, we can get a stiffly worded committee report, which compared with investors’ multi-billion dollar settlements is thin stuff!) These criticisms are shared by the European Trade Union Confederation, whose leader Luca Visentini reiterated ETUC opposition to CETA and TTIP at our Congress last week and on the stage at the rally outside the European Commission that concluded yesterday’s demonstration.
But our criticisms have taken on an extra edge since the EU referendum, because many people have argued that the EU-Canada deal could be a model for a future EU-UK deal, after Brexit, and we wanted to make it absolutely clear that as well as opposing CETA itself (which might apply to the UK long after we’ve left the EU), it is certainly no model for an agreement between the UK and the EU. It wouldn’t provide us the market access needed to protect jobs in manufacturing and services, and it wouldn’t maintain our workplace rights either.
The CETA deal is, however, now in doubt, not least because of the popular demonstrations which we joined in Brussels, and which swept Germany and Austria at the weekend. They will be replicated in other European cities over the next few days ahead of an informal trade ministers’ meeting in Slovakia on Friday (which is why we were seeing UKREP – we’ll also be writing publicly to International Trade Secretary Liam Fox ahead of the meeting.) On Monday, the junior partner in Angela Merkel’s coalition government – the social democrats – held a crucial convention of party officials, unions and public representatives to debate CETA, and the dust has not settled enough yet to see what impact their conclusions will have.
The European Commission has already been forced back on its plans to do the CETA deal without scrutiny by national parliaments, but may still get away with ‘provisional application’ of the agreement before it has been ratified by all 28 parliaments (we will be pressing for the UK parliament to vote CETA down). We are also pressing for the investment protection elements of the deal not to be provisionally applied, whatever else is.
TTIP is in serious trouble, although we’re still worried it will rise zombie-like from the grave. But our main priority just now is stopping CETA. Yesterday’s demonstration was just the beginning of our campaign.