Some Thoughts On CETA

High drama this week, with CETA, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the EU, first blocked by the Walloons, and then rescued following some marathon diplomacy (or inconsequential fudge, depending on your perspective). Had the Walloon parliament voted against the agreement, Belgium would have been prevented from agreeing to it, thus the unanimous agreement of EU states needed to sign would have failed, and so would the ratification of the deal.

For those opposed to CETA – and their numbers are legion – this victory will no doubt have many fathers. Politico summarised the groundswell of opposition in Belgium as being “part survival tactics by a Socialist party facing a growing challenge from the anti-globalization hard-left, part classical protection of agricultural interests, and part principled concern about the risk of tilting the balance of regulatory power from states to corporations”. Expanding on that last part, it is clear that the proposals for an investor state dispute mechanism played a large part in turning public opinion against the deal.

Familiar opposition

The charges levelled against the inclusion of international dispute settlement (ISDS) within the treaty are familiar; that arbitration lacks transparency, that it would force privatisation of public services, that it would bring a regulatory chill, constraining the freedom of government action, and that it would allow multi-national corporations to sue for future profits. These concerns have pers