It stands for the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, and it represents one of the ‘new generation’ of trade treaties on behalf of big business that are set to undermine our democracy and destroy our basic rights.
Even though we've voted to leave the EU, CETA is still set to apply to us – the European Commission wants to push the deal through ahead of a British exit, and once in place some of CETA's worst elements will apply to the UK even after we leave.
Worst of all, CETA is a backdoor for TTIP, the horrific EU-US deal that generated so much anger and opposition across Europe and the UK, and became a major referendum issue.
Negotiations on CETA started back in 2009, and concluded with a ceremony in Ottawa in September 2014. A number of EU governments were unhappy with the final text agreed by the negotiators, but it was rushed through regardless. No MPs or MEPs were allowed to take part in the talks, which took place in secret, and no one was granted access to the text of the agreement until it was too late. Key elements of our public services have been bargained away without a shred of public debate.
CETA includes the toxic investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism, which allows companies to sue governments over any new law or policy that might reduce their profits in future. In a public consultation held in Europe, over 97% of respondents rejected the introduction of this new power for business. Yet the EU has gone ahead with it anyway, and CETA will introduce ISDS not only for Canadian companies but also for any US firms with offices in Canada (which is most of them).
CETA is now ready for ratification on both sides of the Atlantic – a lengthy procedure which required the entire text to go through a process of ‘legal scrubbing’ and to be translated into all the official languages of the EU. It will now be presented to the EU Council of Ministers (representing the governments of all the member states) and also to the European Parliament. This part of the process is due to begin later in 2016.
If CETA is considered to be a ‘mixed’ agreement within the EU (meaning that it is not just a matter for the European institutions alone), it must also be presented to the national parliaments of all the EU's member states for them to ratify in turn. This will take many years more, and could well see the deal rejected. However, the EU does not have to wait for the full ratification process to be completed: under the EU’s anti-democratic procedures, it can apply the content of CETA on a provisional basis already, without worrying about any accountability to the people of Europe.
For the UK, this means that even though we've chosen to leave the EU, unless we stop CETA, some of the worst elements of the deal will apply to us anyway.
We need to send a clear message that the people of Europe want no more of these dirty deals.