What is Really the Matter with CETA?

Published on The Bullet, Socialist Project’s E-Bulletin No. 1321, by Leo Panitch, Oct 29, 2016.

Canada’s Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland’s sense of amour propre was clearly dented last week when the latest talks to salvage the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the European Union and Canada appeared to fall apart in face of the refusal of the Belgian regional parliament in Wallonia to accede to the Belgian government’s support for it. The story is by no means over, but it would be quite wrong to think that what really threw this spanner in the works was that the EU was incapable of reaching an agreement, as she put it, “even with a country with European values such as Canada, even with a country as nice and patient as Canada”

First of all, Canadians might be expected to understand why Belgium’s failure to secure the consent of the Walloons mattered so much. The Canadian federal experience has often required securing inter-governmental unanimity, and lent an effective veto not only to Quebec, but even to the tiny province of Prince Edward Island. If Manitoba, with a population of around one million, could write finis to Canada’s last attempt at a Constitutional accord, why should Wallonia, with well over three million inhabitants, not be able to stop a trade agreement?

Moreover, Canadians know well enough that the opposition being registered by one provincial government usually resonates with a substantial body of opinion in other regions. And that is certainly the case with CETA, which has aroused very considerable concern right across Europe. It was only by a hair’s breadth that CETA secured the approval last month of the German Social Democratic Party, the junior partners in Europe’s most powerful government. The disquiet over CETA in fact followed on directly from what disturbed so many Europeans about the U.S.-EU free trade agreement that bore the acronym TTIP.

So-Called Free Trade Agreements: … //

… The social attitudes of those opposing CETA are quite different from those of the xenophobic far right parties which have made such gains in Europe. The rejection of CETA as well as the TTIP would not have anything to do with rejecting the values of diversity and democracy, as Ms. Freeland’s comments implied. If anything, it has been the failure of the mainstream parties to articulate in a progressive manner the discontent with what has come with state promotion of ‘free trade’ over the last three decades that has opened so much political space for the Le Pens, on one side of the Atlantic, and for the Trumps, on the other.

(full text).

(Leo Panitch is emeritus professor of political science at York University, co-editor (with Greg Albo) of the Socialist Register and author (with Sam Gindin) of The Making of Global Capitalism, Verso).


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