Friday, October 18, 2013

EU-Canada trade deal: bad news for democracy

Extremists have notched up a significant victory today.

The new trade deal between the European Union and Canada appears to go further than any previous commercial agreement that the EU has clinched.

Its most worrying provision is what the European Commission calls "a modern and effective investor-to-state dispute settlement mechanism". This will allow major corporations to formally challenge any social or environmental law that hurts their bottom line.

Monsanto and others who play dangerous games with nature will be undoubtedly delighted with the deal. Canada is one of the top 10 countries in the world for planting genetically modified (GM) crops. The biotechnology industry, on the other hand, has long been frustrated by the difficulties it encounters in placing Frankenstein foods on the European market.

Invited to sue

If the new agreement comes into effect, then Monsanto will be invited to sue the European Union over the "barriers" that have been erected to force-feeding us with things we don't anywhere near our - or our children's - mouths.

We cannot even be certain that items containing GM ingredients will come with clear information. An explanatory note published by the Commission indicates that both the EU and Canada wish to reduce the cost of complying with each other's labelling requirements.

It is telling that the agreement was announced by two right-wing politicians: the Canadian premier Stephen Harper and the European Commission's unelected chief José Manuel Barroso. The dodgy duo have both registered their contempt for democracy.

Some key elements of the new deal amount to a repackaging of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) - a hideous proposal by a number of Western governments that was defeated thanks to relentless campaigning by ordinary people in the 1990s.

While the full text of the EU-Canada deal hasn't yet been made available - and, of course, it was negotiated in secret - there are reasons to fear that its clauses on intellectual property bear strong similarities to those in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).

ACTA was also defeated by a mass mobilisation of conscientious individuals. But the elite has a habit of resurrecting things that engender public opposition. Wasn't the EU's own constitution rejected by Dutch and French voters in 2005, only to be repackaged and renamed the Lisbon treaty?

We should not forget, either, that the EU and the US are eyeing a similar trade and investment agreement. The deal with Canada is likely to give a boost to those negotiations.

Fortunately, the battle is not over.

The new agreement will have to get the nod from the European Parliament before it can enter into effect. Should there be a left-leaning majority in this assembly following next year's elections, then it's conceivable that deals of this nature will become gridlocked. That's why it is vital for voters to grill candidates on their views about international trade.

Nobody should delude themselves, however, into thinking that the 2014 elections will be the end of the matter. The super-rich will keep on looking for ways to crush dissent. That's why they must be fought all day and every day.

•First published by EUobserver, 18 October 2013.


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