Stop CETA: Trans-continental coalition fights trade agreement

Food industry bodies fear the trade deal could undermine public health, environment and food industry rights ©iStock

A coalition of over 450 civil society groups from Europe and Canada has signed an open letter pleading legislators to vote against the deal, fearing it will erode public power over the dietary and environmental impact of the food industry.

The Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) will eliminate 98% of trade tariffs between the EU and Canada.

Negotiations were concluded in August 2014 and the 1600-page treaty now awaits ratification by the European Parliament and other national legislatures.

Since the closure of negotiations, over 3.5m people have signed a petition against CETA and 2,100 local or regional governments have declared themselves in opposition.

European food associations such as SlowFood and FoodWatch signed the letter released last month calling for the agreement to be halted and debated publically. It was also published on the Corporate Europe Observatory -  a non-profit organisation seeking to expose the effects of corporate lobbying and EU policy making.

An unhealthy alliance? 

The European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) compiled an extensive report warning of risks implicated by the deal which concern the European ‘food environment’.

Zoltan Mussay-Kosubek, policy coordinator of EPHA's 'Trade for Health' campaign, told FoodNavigator: “EPHA has witnessed a political push in the European Parliament by the mainstream parties to push though CETA in the European Parliament without any meaningful debate. We found it inappropriate and contrary to the democratic mandate of the European Parliament.”

Besides the undemocratic process behind the deal, campaigners are fearful of the Investor-to-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clause.

They say it will grant companies the right to sue governments over public measures that harm their expected profits – including health measures that would control food labelling and restrict advertising of foods high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS).

A study by the UK's University of Manchester showed recently that Canada’s involvement in the North American free-trade agreement (NAFTA), which also includes an ISDS clause, has rendered the Canadian government the most sued in North America.

Cases brought against the government by private companies have cost an estimated $235m (€225m) in settlements and legal fees, the majority of were over cases regarding domestic legislations.

An EPHA report said: “ISDS has weakened environmental and health protections and how it can dissuade governments from protecting the public interest.”

Protesters fear a similar situation will unfold in the EU.

The end of junk food tax

If the deal is enacted, the vast majority of tariffs on HFFS foods will be eliminated, the report says.

Tax on processed food for example, is likely to drop from an average of 12.5% to 0%. This may mean a drop in consumer prices, but EPHA fears it will only exacerbate the epidemic of non-communicable diseases (NCD) such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

Likewise, the deletion of tariffs for the meat industry is predicted to have catastrophic effects for both public health and the environment.

Over-consumption of processed and red meats has been consistently correlated to NCDs, and current on-going protests over EU policy on boosting the meat trade - policies also associated with CETA -  have underlined the cattle industry’s devastating environmental impact.

Nikolai Pushkarev, policy coordinator of food drink and agriculture at EPHA, told us: “It is good we (EPHA) are putting a lens on this deal and others like it, such as the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP). When we spoke to people in the trade departments, they were not aware of the terminology or even the concept of public health issues.”

Disregard for industry rights

A European Commission report detailing the benefits of CETA for the EU included a drop in consumer prices, savings of hundreds of millions of euros in trade tariffs and helping to generate new jobs.

However, the letter of protest also stated that besides enabling private companies to sue governments, no rights have been granted to public organisations like trade unions to in turn hold these companies accountable for their social impact.

The letter said the deal’s provisions in these areas “remain empty statements with no bearing on the dangers that other chapters in the agreement pose to workers’ rights.”

Moreover, heightened competition with Canadian farmers is expected to put a heavy burden on the European agriculture sector, although no independent studies have yet been made into such potential consequences.

The final plenary vote on CETA is scheduled for 2nd February 2017.

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