Leaked 5-page ‘declaration’ previews likely compromise on Canada-EU trade deal

A leaked final draft began circulating around Europe Wednesday evening of a “joint interpretative declaration” Canada hopes will be enough to rally the remaining critics of the trade deal it hopes to sign with the European Union at the end of the month.

While much of the declaration appears to simply re-emphasize shared commitments between the two parties to the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA), a key section on its fifth and final page offers new language around the deal’s controversial government procurement provisions.

The text says that CETA “maintains the ability” to “use environmental, social and labour-related criteria” in tendering, “in a way that is not discriminatory and does not constitute an unnecessary obstacle to international trade.”

As CBC News reported last month, Canada agreed to work with key European players on “clarifications” to the final 1,600-page deal amid concerns that it wasn’t progressive enough to win the support of key political players in the European centre-left, including social democrats in Germany and Austria.

In particular, critics said the negotiations that concluded several years ago failed to adequately protect individual governments’ rights to regulate in areas like environmental protections or labour standards. The opening of more public sector procurement raised concerns about whether the interests of multinational corporations would interfere with local sovereignty. 

Senior trade representatives from the 28 member countries of the European Union meeting in Bratislava, Slovakia through Friday are expected to discuss the new text.

Declaration not unprecedented

The Canadian government will not confirm the authenticity or accuracy of the five-page document or the status of its negotiations with European counterparts, saying only that there is no final text yet and it won’t be released this week.

Labour unions and civil society groups have organized large protests in Europe, mobilizing hundreds of thousands and applying political pressure ahead of the European Council giving its final approval for signature.

While clarifying the parties’ intentions may have some use in selling the deal politically, skeptics question the legal value of an interpretative declaration, suggesting that if both parties believe something should be changed in the text they should just change it, not sign a supplementary document.

But a declaration like this is not without precedent in international trade. The parties to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have used a similar declaration to clarify how aspects of that deal should be interpreted in court, for example.

Neither side wanted to re-open negotiations, which could have introduced all sorts of complications to the process — from a reconsideration of the deal’s tradeoffs in light of the United Kingdom’s planned exit from the trading block to an attempt to re-argue aspects of the deal individual countries weren’t completely satisfied with.

Canada already agreed to rework the deal’s investor-state dispute settlement clauses last winter, adopting instead a new investor court system the European side proposed.

Sources tell CBC News the leak may be a trial balloon intended to gauge public opinion in the final lead-up to final approvals and a planned signing ceremony on Oct. 27.

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