A few hundred people march through streets of Krakow, Poland in nationwide protest against TTIP and CETA deals. Oct. 15, 2016. SIPA USA/PA Images

Jennifer Whitmore We need a full debate and proper scrutiny of CETA trade deal

The Social Democrats TD argues that there has been more time dedicated to the controversial Canadian-EU trade deal on the airwaves and social media than in the Dáil.

IF I STARTED this article by telling you I wanted to talk about a complicated international trade deal, I might struggle to hold your attention.

But if I wrote that I want to discuss an issue of national importance, which may affect how we organise our public services and make our laws, you might be more interested.

This is precisely the contradiction we face in relation to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, better known as CETA.

Trade deals, by their nature, do not generally become the focus of national debate and everyday political attention. Framed as complicated issues of little interest to the general public, issues like CETA often escape political scrutiny.

To its credit, The did cover CETA in December when the Government attempted to effectively ram ratification of the deal through the Dáil.

They scheduled just 45 minutes of debate, followed by a vote, allowing for a level of scrutiny and debate far less than what is needed on such an important issue.

Why say ‘no’ to CETA?

The Social Democrats, like many others, have issues with CETA. We are particularly concerned about the clauses that create a special Investor Court, a mechanism which (under other trade deals) has led to governments around the world being sued by private corporations for taking decisions in the public interest.

An example of this is where tobacco manufacturer Philip Morris sued the Australian Government for “unjust confiscation” of its trademarks and intellectual property when the Australian parliament passed a law mandating plain packaging on cigarette boxes. This was done in such an investor court.

The majority of such cases around the world have related to environmental regulations, with mining firms suing governments for sums amounting to billions of dollars.

We are aware that others take a different view. IBEC and Canadian Chamber of Commerce, among others, have indicated that they strongly favour Ireland’s ratification of the deal. The Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar, also made a strong case for the deal in response to a parliamentary question in December.

But if the proponents of the deal are so confident that ratification of CETA is in the public interest, there should be no problem allowing the Dáil the necessary time to examine and debate it first.

There is a range of ways to do this. Dáil committees could be given a role. Expert witnesses could be invited in. Government ministers could be questioned on areas of CETA which potentially impact their portfolios.

There are a number of possibilities, but our position is clear: it should not be left to the media and social media to scrutinise CETA; this must be done in our national parliament.

Investor Courts System

In particular, the implications of the Investor Courts System (ICS) need to be teased out.  Because the trade aspects of the deal are already in place since 2017, Dáil ratification of CETA by the Oireachtas is effectively the only ratification of the ICS.

As I have pointed out, this ICS creates a new judicial forum for corporations to potentially challenge national governments for creating policies that might negatively affect profitability. This is worrying, to say the least, and the potential implications require full scrutiny.

This will not be satisfied with a 45-minute discussion. The Government has a track record of not facilitating scrutiny of CETA. My request for a risk-based analysis, for example, has been ignored.

We are told that CETA will come before the Dáil again when normal scheduling resumes (the Dáil is currently sitting on a restricted basis). Rather than presenting a fait accompli, the Government should instead allocate the time necessary for opponents of ratification, including the Social Democrats, to present their arguments.

For us, there are fundamental issues about ratification, not just around the ICS but also about the implications for Irish agriculture and labour rights, as well as other areas.

It should also be noted that there is a case related to CETA before the German Constitutional Court, the outcome of which may fundamentally change the nature of the debate.

There is potentially a lot at stake. The Dáil needs to step up and do its job by conducting a proper and thorough debate on ratifying this deal.

Jennifer Whitmore TD is a Social Democrats TD for Wicklow and party spokesperson on Climate Action and Biodiversity.


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