France to ratify CETA next year, seeks ‘green veto’

French Ecology minister Nicolas Hulot leaves the Elysee palace after the weekly cabinet meeting in Paris, France, 9 August 2017. [Christophe Petit Tesson/EPA]

On Wednesday (25 October), the French government tabled an action plan on CETA’s health and environmental issues. But the French proposal can only be applied with the agreement of the EU and Canada. EURACTIV France reports.

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) is the first major trade deal the European Union has signed up to since it began implementing its South Korea agreement in 2011.

Seven years in the making, CETA will abolish some 98% of customs duties, open up public tenders to companies and allow the EU to export more cheese and wine and Canada more pork and beef in quotas that expand over the next six years.

France is seeking “climate veto” powers over CETA to ensure it does not undermine efforts against global warming, Hulot stated.

Calls grow for ‘green clause’ in EU trade deals

There is widespread consensus on the need to level the playing field for European companies confronted with environmental and social dumping from foreign competitors. Just how hard the EU should hit on wrongdoers remains a major sticking point, however.

CETA went into force last month despite lingering concerns from environmentalists. The agreement has been implemented on a provisional basis pending approval by the EU’s 38 national and regional parliaments, which could take years.

CETA goes live, but not without foes

On Thursday (21 September), the EU-Canada trade agreement enters provisionally into force, sparking a rehash of old claims.

One of its most controversial measures is an investment protection scheme which allows companies to pursue legal arbitration if they believe their rights have been violated by a change in government policy.

This raised huge concerns among activists who fear European countries could roll back rules on health and the environment if faced with opposition from powerful multinationals.

Hulot said France, which is among the countries yet to ratify, would seek extra protections against this.

“We will put in place what you might call a form of climate veto,” Hulot said as the French government unveiled an action plan on how to implement the deal.

This “would assure that from the moment the measures are put in place, our climate commitments could in no case be attacked by investors, notably in arbitration tribunals,” Hulot said.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France was seeking to be “exemplary” in its implementation of the deal, including monitoring its impact on key industries such as farming.

There have been calls for tight controls to ensure products such as hormone-treated beef remain banned in Europe, while the French meat industry has raised concerns that a flood of Canadian imports could seriously damage business.

Empty promise?

The government’s ambition to include a “climate veto” could, however, remain an empty promise. Indeed, the negotiations of the agreement are over and since September 21, the majority of the CETA has already entered into force. “This measure remains ineffective as there is no guarantee that this proposal will be accepted by the EU and Canada. And it will not automatically rule out the prosecution,” said several NGOs in a statement (FNH, Veblen Institute, Foodwatch).

“It’s not easy to act retrospectively on an already negotiated agreement. On many points, the French proposal can only be realized if the European Commission, the other countries of the European Union and Canada adhere to it. In the same way, what will become of the possible complementary commitments made with Canada on climate, in case of majority change here or there? “, warned French MP Matthieu Orphelin.

European ambition

Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, French Secretary of State and President of the CETA follow-up Committee stated in the wake of the presentation of the action plan that France, the European Commission and Canada were “already in the process of” developing a “Joint EU-Canada interpretative Declaration”.

In the area of climate, this statement will affirm that CETA’s trade dispute resolution forum cannot be used to extricate itself from environmental commitments.

Emmanuel Macron has already launched in Brussels the idea of renovating European trade policy, taking more into account the environmental protection issues and social standards of the EU.

This idea, put on the table at the last summit of EU Heads of State and Government, should be the subject of concrete proposals from Paris in the coming weeks.