November 2016        

CETA: The latest attack on the working class

Eoghan M. Ó Néill

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada has been agreed by the EU states. There had been a hope that the noxious agreement would be delayed by the decision of the regional government of Wallonia—the French-speaking half of Belgium—to reject the deal. However, the minister-president of Wallonia, Paul Magnette, a member of the Socialist Party, has done a deal with the Belgian national government that will allow Belgium to ratify CETA. All that is required now is a signing ceremony.
     Over the last couple of years opposition to trade agreements has concentrated on TTIP. Hundreds of thousands demonstrated against TTIP throughout Europe. Meanwhile CETA was quietly negotiated behind closed doors—not by national governments but by unaccountable EU bureaucrats.
     CETA contains all the worst elements of TTIP: the lowering of workers’ rights and wages, the privatisation of public services, including water, education, health, and infrastructure, to mention a few. It will pave the way for fracking, for the removal of generic medicines, and for the strengthening of intellectual property rights.
     It will also introduce “investor-state dispute settlement.” ISDS consists of a special court, operated outside the normal judicial system and staffed by corporate lawyers. Under this system, transnational corporations, such as Apple, will be able to sue the Irish government for billions of euros should the Irish state do anything that affects the corporation’s profits, or could affect its profits in the future. This could include minimum wages, health and safety legislation, and environmental legislation.
     There are examples of ISDS being used in other countries, such as Germany, where the German state was sued because it wanted to reduce its dependence on nuclear energy, and Australia, where the state was sued for introducing plain packaging on cigarette packets.
     There are countless more examples in Europe, Asia and South America where states have been successfully sued for billions. In effect, national governments will be restricted in what they can do in the economic, environmental, health and safety, workers’ rights and social security fields, and much more, for fear that they will be sued by profit-seeking transnational corporations.
     CETA opens the door not only to Canadian transnational corporations but to any corporation that has an office in Canada. More than 80 per cent of American transnationals have an office in Canada and so will have access to the Irish and European economies without reciprocal agreement. They will also have access to ISDS, as will Irish transnationals that open an office in Canada. Our own capitalists will then be able to sue our own government in their pursuit of mega-profits.
     James Connolly once stated that “governments in capitalist society are but committees of the rich to manage the affairs of the capitalist class.” Karl Marx stated a similar view: “The executive of the modern state is nothing but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”
     CETA, TTIP, TiSA and TTP will copperfasten the role of national governments as committees for the capitalist ruling class. Our government are all too happy to adopt the role of comprador: they are well used to it. This same government who failed to stand up on behalf of their people against the imperialists of the EU, and who submissively present their budgets to their EU masters for vetting, have long championed these trade agreements, and have publicly stated that they will ratify them without giving the Irish people a say in the matter.
     This government needs to go, and any future government must pledge to break these agreements and to withdraw from the EU.
     We now need to step up the campaign against CETA, and to demand that it be put to the people in a referendum. We need to build the broadest coalition of people’s organisations and representatives to prevent it being adopted and coming into law.

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