October 12, 2016 - by Patrick Leblond, University of Ottawa
On October 27th, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his European Union counterparts are expected to sign, at a summit in Brussels, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which they began negotiating seven years ago. With those signatures, the treaty would then come into force provisionally (meaning about 90-95% of it would apply) sometime in 2017 and firms on both sides of the Atlantic would be able to begin taking advantage of the benefits offered by the agreement.
The only obstacle that remains for CETA’s ratification is a positive vote by the Walloon assembly, the regional parliament for the French-speaking part of Belgium (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-37603878). Given Belgium’s intricate federal system, subnational parliaments actually have a veto over the ratification of international treaties by their federal government, including those signed by the EU. In this case, because the Council of the EU, which represents the EU member states, must vote unanimously in favour of CETA for the EU to ratify the agreement, the Walloon parliament has a de facto veto over the entire accord. Walloon parliamentarians are especially concerned about the CETA's investor protection provisions (so-called Investor-State Dispute Settlement or ISDS) and the negotiations of a free trade agreement with the United States (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), for which they blame CETA as a precursor.
In response to the opposition by Walloons, as well as by other CETA sceptics, notably in Germany and Austria, the EU and Canada have agreed on an interpretive document (http://www.politico.eu/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Joint-declaration-10.10.16.pdf) that aims to further clarify certain CETA provisions in order to assuage fears associated with CETA with regards to governments retaining full control over domestic standards and regulations (i.e., governments from the party or firms cannot use CETA to force regulatory changes against a government’s will).
On Thursday, October 13, the member state ambassadors who are preparing the planned meeting of trade ministers in the Council of the EU later this month will have to all agree on the so-called Joint Declaration and CETA’s ratification. Otherwise, there will be no CETA signature at the EU-Canada summit and CETA will have to wait at least another few months before a new attempt at ratification by the EU can be made.