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Debate Room: In a post-Brexit world, Ireland needs the Canadian trade pact

Toxic trade deal or necessary agreement? We debate the controversial Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada.

TheJournal.ie team

This week the European Parliament will meet in Strasbourg where a vote on the Canada-EU trade deal will take place. The Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, a 1,500-page document seven years in the making, has been the target of a spectacularly divisive campaign.

For some, this is a battle in which democracy itself is at stake, and not just a question of whether Europe will suddenly be swamped with hormonally altered beef. For others, it’s the very model of a good trade deal.

Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes and Sinn Féin’s Matt Carthy debate CETA.

YES. WE KNOW THAT many far left and far right political groups don’t like trade deals with the EU. Actually, they do not like making trade deals with anyone.

How exactly we are going to improve wages, jobs and investment without more trade is the key question. Essentially CETA is about getting more trade between the EU and Canada. 14% of the EU total employment depends directly on the EU’s trade performance.

We also need to cut the cost of doing business between the EU market of over 500 million and the Canadian market of 38 million people. CETA will eliminate trade tariffs and custom charges, saving European exporters over €500 million every year.

Both the EU and Canada will retain their full right to regulate for high standards of health and safety, and to protect the environment. This means there will be no lowering of standards for consumers, or the environment. Canada is a world leader on environmental protection.

CETA will make exporting products much easier for small businesses in Europe and reduce the costs for consumers, but it will in no way affect EU restrictions on beef containing growth hormones or GMOs. Similarly, CETA safeguards labour rights and does not affect public services, a claim repeatedly made by CETA opponents.

The EU is Canada’s second biggest trading partner after the US and it is the fourth largest foreign investor in Europe. Overall, the EU economy has the potential to grow by about €12 billion a year, if CETA is fully implemented.

These are the facts about CETA. It is based on experience. The EU-South Korea trade agreement led to over 200,000 jobs being created and a 55% increase in goods exports. Canada’s economy is 30% bigger than South Korea’s and we have existing trade links that can be built on.

It is also fair to say that Ireland has most to gain from CETA. We are the 5th largest recipient of FDI from Canada and have over 80 Canadian companies operating here. More than 50 Irish companies have invested in Canada. Independent reports have suggested that Ireland can expect a 25% increase in trade with Canada. Last week the Canadian firm, Mercury Film Works, announced a new partnership in Kilkenny worth over 140 new jobs.

All of the concerns raised, real or imagined, have been dealt with. The suspicions that remain are just that, while the facts should speak for themselves. The loss of traditional jobs especially in manufacturing is caused by automation not trade. Do we need to protect workers in existing industries? Yes, of course we do.

However, that cannot be achieved by building walls and preventing more globalised trade.

Brian Hayes is a Fine Gael MEP for Dublin.

shutterstock_507294118 Source: Shutterstock/nito

NO. NEXT WEDNESDAY, 15th February, the European Parliament will have a final vote on the controversial CETA. Although national parliaments will vote on the deal at a later stage, the European Commission has indicated that it will begin to “provisionally apply” key aspects of the agreement immediately. That’s democracy EU style in 2017.

The threats and intimidation exerted on the Wallionian government last year show that it will prove a brave parliament that will attempt to block CETA at national level (although they would be perfectly within their rights to do so). So, for all intents and purposes, Wednesday’s resolution will be crucial, possibly definitive. It will be the last chance for Irish MEPs to stand against this dangerous, regressive deal.

Most Irish MEPs will vote against CETA but Fine Gael MEPs are on record as declaring their support. CETA will have huge implications for Irish sovereignty, our legislative and judicial systems, and our economic future. Coupled with other EU trade deals coming down the line, it will be devastating for our agriculture sector, for our farming families and for the communities that depend on them.

Yet most Irish people have never of CETA. That is no accident. A key strategy of the proponents of CETA, as with its bigger American cousin TTIP and other regressive trade deals, is secrecy and silence.

The negotiations took place behind closed doors. MEPs who wanted to see what it contained had to enter a secret reading room without their phone or other recording equipment, and sign a confidentiality clause committing not to divulge what they saw to the people who elected them. Now that the deal is completed the champions of CETA want the ratification to take place quickly and quietly.

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The common retort of Fine Gael – “trade means jobs” – suggests that because Irish people generally support free trade and because we like Canadians, we should therefore embrace a free trade deal with Canada. But CETA isn’t a traditional trade deal and rather than create jobs or economic growth it is likely, in fact, to further distort trade and wealth in favour of larger multinational corporations, at the expense of indigenous businesses and local sectors.

Fine Gael representatives regularly cite huge projected GDP growth (€12bn in one instance) resulting from CETA. But the European Commission’s own studies are much more reserved. The official studies project a mere 0.08% rise in GDP after 7 years, or 0.01% per year. Weather-related events could have a greater impact on GDP than this deal, and wouldn’t simultaneously put our labour standards and public services at risk.

Furthermore, this deal is not just about trade. A large, often-overlooked, part of this deal deals with so-called “regulatory cooperation”. The aim of regulatory cooperation is to align standards, but CETA allows this to be done to a large extent, behind closed doors.

The most controversial component part of CETA is the inclusion of an Investment Court. Of all the posturing by Fine Gael in this debate, their argument that the Investment Court is necessary to protect “our” interests abroad is the most dangerous and disingenuous.

The Investment Court will give corporations the right to sue governments and regional authorities for enacting laws that impact on profits; regardless of whether those same laws are clearly in the public interest. Anti-tobacco legislation, moratoriums on fracking, water-use plans, decisions to make cancer drugs more affordable, designations of places of natural reserve have all been challenged in courts like these. Needless to say it costs governments, and taxpayers, millions of euros to defend these suits.

The public always lose.

Matt Carthy is a Sinn Féin MEP.

Over to you. Let us know what you think of CETA in the comment section below.

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