EU trade chief Cecilia Malmström said Tuesday the bloc’s pending trade pact with Canada could be done by the end of July, but acknowledged the more controversial EU-U.S. agreement will get pushed to next year.
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Some fear the relatively non-controversial Canadian trade deal could get held up on a fight over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership related to concerns about what critics see as secretive courts where companies can sue foreign governments.
Malmström said the legal experts from Brussels and Ottawa are “basically done” with the so-called “legal scrubbing,” the final stage for the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between the EU and Canada, or CETA.
Although the negotiations on the deal were concluded last September, the ratification process in the EU Parliament, the Canadian parliament and potentially the 28 parliaments of EU member states has not started yet. It’s on hold waiting for completion of the scrubbing process, which is intended to remove language ambiguity, typos and other inconsistencies in some 1,600 pages of text.
However, Malmström acknowledged that the most delicate part of the legal scrubbing, the clauses about the investor state dispute settlement, also referred to as ISDS, still remain. “We haven’t started with that yet,” she said, arguing that only three pages of the treaty deals with the sensitive issue, whereas “there are 1597 pages talking about other things.”
On the EU-U.S. trade deal, which is far less advanced, Malmström acknowledged that it would not be finalized this year, but repeated a goal to get it done by the end of the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama. The European Parliament delayed a resolution backing the measure last month, stymied by divisions among the major political parties over the investor court.
Malmström said that “from my point of view it will not be ready by the end of 2015, but until then we want to have a skeleton with the most important conclusions, so that we can then focus on the details.”
“The aim is to finally conclude things under the Obama administration.”
On the Parliamentary divisions she said: “I’m ready to speak and present my arguments to the Parliament, no matter which time. I also go to Germany frequently to discuss this. But if the European Parliament or the Bundestag vote against TTIP or CETA, don’t blame it on me. It’s the national governments that need to convince their people on the benefits.”
The investor arbitration system at issue lets foreign investors sue states on claims that their investments are jeopardized through sudden changes in national law or discriminatory measures. Critics see this as a chance to undermine democratic legislation, but the Commission argues that the draft Canadian agreement already includes a revised version of the dispute settlement mechanism.
Malmström recently proposed to revamp the ISDS even further in the EU deal, and she is now trying to bring at least some of these reforms also into the Canadian pact.
The Canadian agreement needs to be translated into all 24 official working languages of the EU before the ratification process in the European parliament could start, which would be in spring 2016 if there are no further delays.
Malmström also was asked what the fracas over the trade deals means for her career.
There are no big worries for her, she said. “TTIP doesn’t keep me up at night.”