Wednesday 22 November 2017

Protests grow over new EU trade deal as Trudeau arrives

Independent TD Maureen O'Sullivan. Photo: Tom Burke
Independent TD Maureen O'Sullivan. Photo: Tom Burke
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

A trade deal between Europe and Canada will damage Irish agriculture and put the State at risk of being sued, it has been claimed.

The visit of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has stoked protest at the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta), which has been approved by the EU but has yet to come into force.

Those behind the deal say it will remove tariffs, boost trade and create employment on both sides of the Atlantic.

However, a coalition including representatives of the farming community, environmental groups and civil society met yesterday to stress its opposition.

Independent TD Maureen O'Sullivan told the Irish Independent there are many reasons why Taoiseach Leo Varadkar should express concern about the agreement when he meets with Mr Trudeau today.

"Our agriculture sector could be majorly affected.

"There are real, serious concerns about this opening the floodgates to genetically modified food," she said.

The Dublin Central TD also raised questions about a proposed arbitration system, known as investor court settlement (ICS), which will allow businesses to sue a government if they believe its actions impacted on profitability.

"Any company can sue a government on what's perceived of future imagined profits. That's the jargon. There are examples where that has happened," Ms O'Sullivan said.

She said the Dáil has yet to have a full debate on the issue.

"There isn't a public awareness of it, but yet if it goes through it'll have a major impact on so many areas of life."

President of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association (ICSA) Patrick Kent said Ceta "will be disastrous for the Irish beef sector".

"The last thing Irish beef farmers need is for more competition to be introduced when we are struggling to keep our existing markets," he said.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) said Ceta is "anti-democratic" and "privileges investors over EU citizens and will lead to the opening up of key public services to privatisation".

However, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald said she believes the agreement will bring "considerable benefits" to Ireland.

She said it will bring the elimination of virtually all tariffs between Ireland and Canada, the creation of new opportunities for farmers and enable Irish firms to bid for public contracts in Canada.

Ms Fitzgerald added that Ceta will make it easier for Irish professionals to work in Canada.

"I am of the view that there should be no impediment to Irish companies immediately taking advantage of the provisions of Ceta, including eliminating tariffs on almost all key exports, access to the Canadian procurement market, easing regulatory barriers and ensuring more transparent rules for market access," she said.

Mr Trudeau arrived in Dublin last night ahead of meetings with the Taoiseach and President Michael D Higgins today.

He is Mr Varadkar's first international visitor since taking over the office of Taoiseach.

A spokesperson for Mr Varadkar said their bilateral meeting will focus on the close ties between Ireland and Canada, and how to build on this through trade and multilateralism.

"The Taoiseach will emphasise the role that Irish people have played in developing Canada and in particular Mr Trudeau's hometown of Montreal," he said.

Deal arrived with baggage

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or Ceta, is a trade agreement between the EU and Canada.

The deal took seven years to negotiate, amid complaints from opponents that most of the work was done in secret.

EU governments say it will allow for easier and cheaper business transactions between the member states and Canada.

It will remove the vast majority of taxes that companies from the EU have to pay at Canadian customs. Technical and regulatory barriers will also be reduced.

Those against the deal claim it will negatively impact on workers' rights, food standards and the environment.

It will be at least the autumn before it comes into force.

The Government here has indicated that it will be put to a vote in the Dáil, but not the Seanad.

The EU Court of Justice is also currently considering the legality of the agreement.

Irish Independent

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