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Free Trade Agreements: Our Opposition Shouldn’t Rest In 2017

It is undeniable that free trade agreements partly dominated the public debate in 2016. On both sides of the Atlantic free trade agreements were debated at the highest political levels. Voting on Trump, the US citizens clearly voiced their opposition to opaque agreements highly lobbied by big corporations. People in Europe and in the United States want trade for the well being of citizens and not just for the elite.  

Just like many debates in 2016, also free trade agreements highly polarised our societies between political elites and the people. Opposition to free trade agreements was quickly finger pointed as naive, dangerous for our economy and a potential loss of prosperity. The major defence line was economic growth and  jobs, jobs and jobs! Of course, we, young european greens are not against trade and most other progressive forces aren’t either. However, CETA, TTIP and TiSA were never solely about trade, but about standards, intellectual property and financial regulations.

Civil society and progressive forces have successfully raised concerns and mobilized citizens against TTIP and CETA in 2016. This mounting pressure resulted in the opposition to CETA by the Walloon government. The “No Pasaran” by Wallonia was triggered by Mr Paul Magnette, Wallonia’s minister-president, but sadly ended in an Interpretative Note to the agreement due to high international pressure. 

Notwithstanding, Magnette recently presented the Namur Declaration, a declaration signed by 40 professors from a host of international universities. The report proposes three new requirements that should be met during future international free trade agreements - namely respect for democratic procedures, compliance with socio-economic, sanitary end environmental legislation, and a guarantee of public interest in the dispute resolution mechanism. The EU should also be able to demonstrate that trade does not serve “private interests to the detriment of the public interest.”

The three-page document also points to the heated debates generated by CETA as a sign that the way the EU negotiates international economic and trade agreements, as well as their content, increasingly falls afoul of public opinion. Moreover, Public analyses of a potential new commercial treaty should be conducted before establishing a negotiating mandate, in order to guarantee that it will contribute to sustainable development, the reduction of poverty and inequality, and the fight against climate change, the declaration states. It further says that the negotiating mandates regarding mixed agreements (of the competence not only of the EU, but of national governments) should be the object of prior debate in national parliaments, including regional parliaments with equivalents powers, involving as much as possible representatives of the civil society. Also, the interim results of the negotiations should be made public. The ratification of key instruments for the defence of human rights, the core International Labour Organisation conventions, the recommendations of the BEPS project (Base Erosion and Profit-Shifting) and the Paris Agreement shall be obligatory for the parties, the declaration says. Regarding dispute resolution, it states that the recourse to national and European-competent courts should be favoured.

Another remarkable is the recommendation by the European Parliament’s Employment and Social Affairs Committee on Thursday (8 December) to reject the EU-Canada trade agreement, suggesting that final adoption of the deal in the Assembly’s plenary won’t be plain sailing. Trade agreements like the CETA should create decent jobs and pay increases, said MEPs in the committee. But up to now all evidence indicates that at best the deal would boost employment of no more than 0.018% over a 6-10 year period, they claimed. The committee is only one of a number of committees that is supposed to give its opinion to the International Trade committee, which will give the final green light before the agreement is voted in a Parliament plenary session at the beginning of February 2017.

We can conclude that civil society and other progressive forces are not alone in their fight against TTIP, CETA and TiSA. FYEG continues to demand transparent and democratic trade regimes. Trade agreements must not have detrimental effects on our environmental, health and social standards. S we’re happy with both the initiative by Magnette and the decision by the Employment and Social Affairs Committee. Although it is sad that the mainstream parties in the European Parliament have already rejected by a large majority a motion to submit the deal to the European Court of Justice to check its compatibility with the EU law earlier this month.

Finally, TTIP will most probably be put on dormant for a while as Trump got elected President. But citizens shouldn’t abandon their fight as TiSA might be moving up to a higher gear in 2017. TiSA – the „Trade in Services Agreement“ is at least as problematic and as intransparent as CETA or TTIP. TiSA is being negotiated secretly between the EU and 21 other countries (amongst them USA, Turkey, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and Japan). It aims at the liberalization of worldwide trade with services, replacing the multilateral GATS (= General Agreement on Trade in Services) treaty with a plurilateral one.

We therefore call upon all European Parliament not to ratify CETA in 2017 and hope along with many civil society organisations to put high pressure on Politicians to dismiss TiSA.

Stop TTIP, CETA and TiSA! For democratic, social and ecological trade!

 - The Executive Committee and Future of Europe Working Group of FYEG