Dear Mrs. Mitchell O’Connor,
We thank you for the answer to our letter of 9 May 2016, which we received from your secretary Mrs. Thérèse Walsh.
Our letter explained some of our reservations about CETA and, as a result, asked you to please ask for two things in the EU Council of ministers:
1) To have CETA recognized as a mixed agreement.
2) To reject any attempt to have CETA applied provisionally before public, open discussion and ratification by our national parliament.
Even if we were not able to influence it, we had hoped to get some idea of the position of the Irish government in the Council of Ministers on the issue of CETA:
Did you ask for CETA to be recognised as a mixed agreement?
Will you oppose provisional application and insist on the democratic right of national parliaments to debate the issue and be given the opportunity to cast an informed vote on CETA before it is applied in the various member states?
These were, and still are, the questions we would very much like to have answered.
To us, CETA, and other similar trade agreements, raise big issues of transparency and democracy, and the arguments you make to convince us that our fears are unfounded do not answer our concerns.
You say that European enterprises will benefit from CETA, but this is a trade agreement and, if European enterprises are to benefit, there must also be benefits for their Canadian counterparts.
In any case, our main concern is not for the welfare of multinational companies, be they European or Canadian, but for the rights of people and the protection of their environment in both Europe and Canada. This is why, as we mentioned in our first letter, we have been working with Civil Society Organisations from Canada, such as the Council of Canadians. Following on the broken promises of NAFTA, they have much to tell us about how to read trade agreements.
You mention, for instance, Chapter 21 of CETA as illustrating the strong commitment of the EU and Canada to the principles and objectives of sustainable development including labour and the environment, but what we read are the following texts:
Text A – Chapter 23 Trade and Labour
23.3.3: …” When preparing and implementing measures aimed at health protection and safety at work, each Party shall take into account existing relevant scientific and technical information and related international standards, guidelines and recommendations, if the measures may affect trade or investment between the Parties. The Parties acknowledge that in case of existing or potential hazards or conditions that could reasonably be expected to cause injury or illness to a person, a Party shall not use the lack of full scientific certainty as a reason to postpone cost-effective protective measures. “
And we ask ourselves: what if the measures are not deemed to be “cost effective”?
Among the many tragedies caused by a failure to take effective measures to protect workers, that of the Rana Plaza, in 2013, comes to mind.
Nobody suspects multinational companies such as Benetton, Bon Marché, Monsoon, Mango, Primark or Walmart to have wanted 1,130 workers to die and 2,500 to be injured in the collapse of the building which housed their workshops. Yet, warnings that the building was unsafe were ignored and garment workers were coerced to come to work in it, presumably for reasons of cost effectiveness.
(Pope Francis described the conditions of the Bangladeshi garment workers as slavery, and it is worth remembering that some of their employers were European multinationals and that, by March 2014, only 7 out of the 28 international brands sourcing products from Rana Plaza had contributed to the compensation fund for the affected families backed by the ILO.
Bangladesh is a developing country but it has rules and regulations. These were ignored/ by-passed/ broken to serve the interests of foreign investors, some of which were European multinationals.)
Text B – Chapter 24 Trade and Environment
24. 8. 2: “The Parties acknowledge that where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, the lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.”
Here again, we have to ask: what if the measures are not deemed to be “cost effective”?
Among the many tragedies caused by a failure to take effective measures to protect the environment, we can point, at the heart of Europe, at the toxic mud spill in the River Danube in 2014.
The collapse of a dam holding toxic waste products from an aluminium processing plant in Hungary released 184 million gallons of red mud into the area, causing the death of eight people and eventually reaching the already heavily polluted Danube River and affecting other countries along the course of the river. Environmental disasters know no borders.
Industrial plants, mining and oil extractive facilities are causing major ecological catastrophes around the world, Canada being particularly affected. The companies involved suffer huge reputational damage as a result and we assume that they do not cause catastrophes intentionally but rather because, although they know the dangers posed by their operations (the waste products of the aluminium processing plant in Hungary included arsenic and mercury and the build-up of toxic mud must have been gradual), they do not see remedial or precautionary measures as “cost effective”.
(In Chapters 24 and 25 of CETA, “cost-effective” is the get-away clause. When the Parties come to regulate, will they do it in the short term interest of enterprises or in the long term interest of people and the planet? In the context of regulatory cooperation, is the cost effectiveness argument likely to raise or lower standards of protection?)
Trade agreements as they stand assert the primacy of the rights of traders and CETA is only a progress in that it acknowledges that other rights may have to be taken into accounts. It is a very small and insufficient step in the direction of affirming the primacy of the right of people (not just consumers!) to a life of dignity and fulfilment, in a protected natural environment.
Trade Agreements are crucial in designing the world in which we, and future generations, will live. They should reflect a vision of what it means to be human, and this is why we are sure you will agree with us that CETA must not be provisionally applied until it has been put to the test of informed debates not only by national parliaments but also by the people, who, until now, have had little opportunity to reflect on the issues it raises.