CETA Gains Support of Key German Party, Despite Environmental Protests
WOLFSBURG, GERMANY — A proposed trade deal between Canada and the European Union passed a crucial test Monday after a major German political party opted to support the deal, despite considerable sticking points.
Canadian Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland addressed the centre-left Social Democratic Party during a closed-door Monday convention vote on whether to endorse the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).
According to attendees, Freeland said Canada would be open to raising its labour and environmental protections to meet European standards. Her visit came two days after roughly 175,000 Germans braved frigid rains to march in nationwide protests against the deal.
Amid growing backlash to globalization in Germany and across the continent, officials expect to sign CETA at the Canada-EU summit on Oct. 27. That would activate a “provisional application” clause to eliminate almost all tariffs, while environmental and labour clauses would go before all 28 EU member countries for full ratification.
On Monday, roughly two-thirds of the 235 party delegates voted in favour of CETA, while sticking to “red lines” that need to be negotiated, such as clear sanctions for labour and environmental violations.
The party voted Monday to only ratify CETA if such details are clarified through “a detailed consultation process” involving three levels of parliament and social groups.
Of 10 delegates who spoke with the Financial Post, none said Freeland’s speech changed their vote.
“She spoke to our minds and our hearts, about the balance of social-democratic values and globalization,” said Gustav Herzog, a member of the German Bundestag (lower house of Parliament) who supports CETA.
“She made it perfectly clear we’re only one of the 28 member states, and we’re the only one with all these issues we want fixed,” said Tobias Afsali, chairman of the party’s Bavarian youth wing. He is optimistic CETA will pass, but said it’s been a rocky process.
“It was good to show solidarity by coming, to say that not just our party but Germany is important. But today was a step into the wrong direction.”
A trade department spokeswoman who accompanied Freeland to Germany refused to provide a transcript or recording, saying either would take days to prepare.
Outside the Monday’s convention, scores of protestors urged the union-affiliated party to vote against the deal. Some, like Sigrid Scheurich, panned CETA’s proposed investor-arbitration courts, which would settle trade disputes between corporations, governments and smaller firms with limited public scrutiny.
“They want us to erase decades of building a democratic society, to give power to corporations,” she said
Others, like Sonja Röloff, said CETA was a Trojan horse for a similar trade deal with the U.S., known as TTIP. “I saw on television that because of fracking, New York State has flammable water coming out of the tap. We don’t want a deal to lower our environmental standards,” she said.
“You never know what’s in the deal, because it’s all negotiated in secret.”
The SDP is one of two members of the Germany’s governing grand coalition. Without its support, Europe’s largest economy would likely not ratify CETA, putting Canada’s trade relationship with Europe in jeopardy.
They want us to erase decades of building a democratic society, to give power to corporations
Since negotiations started in 2009, Germany has become a key battleground for CETA, despite Europe’s largest economy roaring from strong exports and a weakened currency. Monday’s convention is taking place down the street from a massive parking lot where thousands of Volkswagen cars are inspected before being sent abroad.
Last month, German non-profit groups launched a constitutional challenge against CETA, with 125,047 signatures arguing that approving the deal before a parliamentary vote would violate the democratic process, while investment courts would create a “parallel justice system.” Germany’s highest court opted to study the complaint instead of outright dismissing it.
The founder of one of the plaintiff groups, FoodWatch, said the risks of CETA don’t justify its economic gains. “This new type of trade agreements is a threat to democracy and the rights of citizens,” Thilo Bode told the Post. “We are not against a trade deals. But this goes beyond tariffs.”
In May, a European Commission poll ranked Germans as the most opposed to TTIP, with 59 per cent opposing the U.S. trade deal, compared to a 34 per cent average among EU countries. Activists have seized on concerns about American hormone-fed, chemical-washed meat reaching German supermarkets, making the deal synonymous in German press with “chlorine chicken.”
Last month, SDP leader Sigmar Gabriel said TTIP negotiations “have de facto failed.” But he contrasted Canada’s deal on a visit to Montreal last week, saying CETA was Germany’s best chance “to create sustainable, good rules for globalization.”
Canada began CETA negotiations in 2009. The Conference Board of Canada estimated the deal will boost Canada’s goods exports by $1.4 billion by 2022.
Although the legal text was signed off in March, the European Union decided last month to put CETA on a slow-track process, requiring 38 parliaments from all 28 EU countries to ratify the deal. Party officials said Monday they expect the ratification process to take roughly three years.
On Thursday, Freeland will meet with trade ministers from each EU country in Bratislava, Slovakia. She co-authored a Monday statement with EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, reiterating plans to sign the agreement this fall and have it implemented in early 2017.
“CETA is the most forward-looking free trade agreement that Canada or the EU have ever negotiated,” they said. “Where formal clarifications are needed to allay concerns, we are committed to providing these.”