Wake-Up Call for Government on controversial EU-Canada Trade Deal

Narrow victory in Seanad for Senator Alice-Mary Higgins’ motion calling on Government not to sign provisional application of Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) this October.

Ireland has previously been accused by some in the media of “sleepwalking” into controversial new trade agreements TTIP and CETA. Tonight in the Seanad the Irish Government received a serious wake-up call.

This evening Senators debated Senator Alice-Mary Higgins’ motion calling on the Government not to sign up to ‘provisional application’ of the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada later this month. Labour, Sinn Féin, a number of independents and members of Senator Higgins’ own Civil Engagement group supported the motion which was passed by a narrow margin of one vote. Fine Gael Senators opposed the motion and Fianna Fáil Senators abstained.

Speaking after the debate Senator Higgins said “today’s Seanad debate on CETA is the first time this hugely significant international trade agreement has been debated in the Oireachtas and we have sent a clear message to government that parliamentary and public debate on this issue must not be bypassed.”

“Make no mistake, this is not business as usual. CETA has been described by the EU trade commissioner Cecelia Malmstrom , as ‘the most ambitious trade agreement that the EU has ever concluded’. It is an absolute game changer with the potential to affect our public services, environment and policy decisions in a way we have not seen before.”

Senator Higgins warned “CETA would bring into effect for the first time in Ireland an Investor Court System (ICS), which could allow corporations to sue the State for the potential loss, not only of present profits, but of future ones. In other countries where such courts already operate, many of the settlements sought have run into billions in national currency. This is an ultimate blank cheque. “

Senator Higgins added “a unique and worrying aspect of CETA is that it operates on a ‘negative list’ basis. With a positive list, each party lists the areas, sectors, services or products they wish to put on the negotiating table. With a negative list, only items explicitly taken off the table are excluded. Everything else is assumed to be bound by the agreement. While Germany’s list of exclusions runs to twenty-five pages, Ireland’s is a mere five.”

Amongst the many concerns highlighted by other speakers during the animated and detailed debate, the Investor Court System came under particular scrutiny. Senators also highlighted concerns in relation to workers’ rights, the environment, public services, agriculture, care services, tobacco and alcohol regulation.

While the debate was wide ranging, the focus of Senator Higgins’ motion tonight was the Government’s stated intention to sign up to provisional application of CETA this October.

Speaking during the debate Senator Higgins highlighted “the worrying lack of agreement and clarity on what provisional application actually means with the EU Commission seeming to take a different legal view to the member states.”

Senator Higgins quoted from a letter from the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation which acknowledged ‘the European Court of Justice is currently considering application by the EU Commission to have the EU-Singapore Agreement treated as an EU only Agreement. The outcome of this case will have an impact on the scope of provisional application in the Singapore Free Trade Agreement but also in CETA’. Senator Higgins said “the European Court of Justice is due to make its ruling in spring 2017 yet the Government are proposing to sign up to provisional application this October. Effectively they were planning to sign now and find out exactly what that means later. The success of my motion tonight will I hope, put the brakes on such reckless behaviour.”

 “It is time to press pause on CETA and give full consideration to the legitimate concerns being raised by unions such as ICTU, academics, farmers, small food producers, environmentalists and thousands of other Irish citizens and indeed European citizens whose voice has not been heard on an agreement which will hugely impact on their lives in the decades to come.”


For further information contact Ciara Gaynor 083 1840496 or Janet Horner 6183869   Senator Alice-Mary Higgins Civil Engagement Group Seanad Éireann Phone: 01-6183869

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