The provisional entry into force of the EU’s free trade agreement with Canada on 21 September leaves little time for the evaluation committee established by France’s new president to deliver its verdict on the deal. EURACTIV France reports.
The evaluation committee, one of Emmanuel Macron’s campaign promises, has been active for less than two weeks. But it is already running out of time.
Officially launched by the French government on 5 July, the committee for the evaluation of the impact of CETA is charged with looking into the possible environmental and health impacts of the deal. It will also provide recommendations on how CETA, and other trade agreements currently under negotiation by the EU, could be improved.
Presided by Katheline Schubert, an environmental economist and professor at the Paris School of Economics, the committee brings together experts on the environment and health, as well as in international law. It only has until 7 September to deliver its conclusions.
Macron’s plans have run up against the realities of the EU’s calendar. Just days after the committee was set up, the European Commission and Canada announced 21 September as the date for the provisional entry into force of CETA.
This tight deadline somewhat undermines the purpose of the French committee: the provisional entry into force covers 90% of the agreement.
“CETA’s entry into force on 21 September is intolerable because it will make any attempt to take into account the experts’ conclusions impossible,” said Karine Jacquemart director general of the NGO Foodwatch. “We believe there is a risk that the conclusions of the committee will be taken into account in future trade agreements but not for CETA.”
While France has high hopes for the evaluation committee, few in Brussels believe its recommendations will have a big effect. For French MEP and member of the European Parliament’s international trade committee Franck Proust (EPP group), the committee “will have little impact”.
“A national evaluation committee will not, from one day to the next, be able to change the political dynamic between the EU and Canada or the legal framework of their economic cooperation,” he said.
“Political wiggle room”
But the political mobilisation around the question of free trade has already led to the rewriting of some of CETA’s most problematic chapters, including that on investor-state dispute settlement.
The original proposal of a private investor-state dispute settlement mechanism (ISDS) raised serious concerns among civil society and even some EU countries, including France.
“When we wanted to make changes to CETA in 2015, we were told it was not possible because the text had been finalised. But the Commission ended up reforming the arbitration tribunals. Now it is up to Macron to find the political wiggle room to have the future conclusions adopted,” said Jacquemart.
NGOs fear the deal’s provisional entry into force will block their attempts to make any changes. 90% of the agreement will apply from 21 September, before ratification by the EU’s national and regional parliaments.
For the French government there is another issue that may yet push back the provisional entry into force: cheese quotas. This is a particularly sensitive issue for France, which has been fighting to protect its geographical indications throughout the trade negotiations.
“On CETA, we are defending our interests and as long as the problem of cheese quotas remains unresolved, we will not apply the deal in France,” Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said on 12 July.