France Approves Action Plan for CETA

2 November 2017

The French government gave the green light to an “action plan” last week for the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), following a domestic review of the trade accord’s expected impacts on different public policy areas.

Along with addressing the pact’s implementation, it also calls for taking on additional, complementary steps with the EU’s North American counterparts on climate action, as well as advocating for even more robust sustainable development provisions in future trade accords.

“This action plan demonstrates the government’s determination, along with that of the European Commission and EU member states, working closely with Canada, to make sure that the CETA is applied in an exemplary fashion, to step up its actions against climate change, and to be more ambitious when it comes to the environmental, social, and health-related aspects of European trade policy,” states the press release by the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs.

The EU-Canada trade deal has long been the subject of scrutiny among some civil society groups, who have raised concerns that the accord could weaken the EU’s future ability to set and enforce stringent rules on health and environmental protection, despite assurances from EU and Canadian officials on the subject. The was cited by some French officials in explaining the plan.

France’s Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot said that Paris would be looking for extra safeguards against any weakening of standards. “We will put in place what you might call a form of climate veto,” said Hulot in explaining the action plan, according to French media.

This “would assure that from the moment the measures are put in place, our climate commitments could in no case be attacked by investors, notably in arbitration tribunals,” he added.

From 29-31 October, France’s Minister of State Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne visited Canada to discuss CETA’s implementation with his North American counterparts, including what it means for bilateral ties on shared policy areas of interest.

The government’s action plan, released shortly before the visit, “will reaffirm France’s desire to step up the dialogue between the EU and Canada with a view to additional initiatives to combat climate change,” says the related press release from the French government.

“The interim application of CETA is giving new momentum to exchanges between our two countries. Our successive G7 presidencies (Canada 2018 – France 2019) will further strengthen our ties,” commented Lemoyne on the visit.

How the action plan will be received by other parties to CETA on either the European or Canadian sides is not yet clear, nor is the approach these other parties might take on these types of issues.

CETA entered into force on a provisional basis on in late September. In practice, provisional application means slashing 98 percent of duties between the two trading partners, as well as improved services and public procurement market access, protecting various geographical indications, chapters on environmental and labour issues, and various other provisions. (See Bridges Weekly, 21 September 2017)

While around 90 percent of the accord’s provisions are now being applied, those excluded from application at this stage mostly concern investment, including investor protection and the new bilateral Investment Court System (ICS). The latter sparked a controversy during the CETA signing process last year, when the Belgian regional parliament of Wallonia sought additional assurances on protecting the right to regulate and how the investment protection terms would be implemented before giving the green light for Belgium to sign the deal. (See Bridges Weekly, 3 November 2016)

The EU and Canada ultimately signed the agreement one year ago, and the European Parliament subsequently approved it in February. A few months later, Canada’s legislature formally ratified the accord. (See Bridges Weekly, 7 July 201616 February 2017, and 18 May 2017)

The Commission proposed for CETA to be submitted to ratification as a “mixed agreement” last year. That means that CETA’s full enactment will require the sign-off of EU national and regional legislatures.

Ratification and legal challenges

Seven EU member states have ratified CETA to date. These include Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Latvia, Malta, Portugal, and Spain.

However, aside from ratification itself, the accord is also awaiting court rulings at the domestic and EU levels which could affect the implementation of the investment provisions. Following its internal compromise with Wallonia, Belgium asked the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in September for its opinion on the agreement’s compatibility with EU law, including the investment court system, a process which could take years. (See Bridges Weekly, 18 May 2017)

The ECJ’s opinion could play a large role in determining CETA’s future, both in terms of ratification and full implementation. In addition, the ruling from the bloc’s highest court may influence European Commission’s approach to its plans for negotiating a multilateral investment court with interested partners, given that CETA’s bilateral mechanism is meant to serve as a stepping stone towards meeting this goal.

CETA already overcame a legal hurdle in France earlier this year, after the country’s Constitutional Council confirmed that the agreement is in line with the French constitution. The trade deal is also being reviewed by the German court system, according to a European Parliament brief.

ICTSD reporting; “France wants ‘green veto’ in EU-Canada trade deal,” RFI, 26 October 2017; “Czech parliament ratifies Canada deal,” POLITICO, 13 September 2017; “Portugal’s parliament ratifies EU-Canada deal,” POLITICO, 20 September 2017. 

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