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CETA raises issues eliciting mixed reactions

With 110 votes “for”, 98 “against” and 7 “abstained” Bulgarian parliament recently voted, at first reading, a bill for the ratification of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the European Union, CETA.

CETA supporters are expecting the agreement to expand the export list of Bulgarian commodities in Canada, once duties on imports of goods have been lifted, and to provide access to the Canadian market for procurement contracts under certain conditions on the part of Canada.

With the exception of the provisions connected with the protection of investments and of investor-state dispute settlement, intellectual property protection, employment and EP, which fall within the national competence of the EU member states, the agreement has been applied, partially, since 21 September, 2017.

All countries of the EU, with the exception of France and Germany, have already adopted the agreement. One of the reasons why two of the European countries with the most robust economies are in no hurry to ratify the document is the fact that foreign investors will be given the right to take legal action against countries in a supra-national court of law.

According to Andrey Kovatchev, MEP from the European People’s Party, the issue at hand concerns public arbitration in which investors are not able to influence the choice of arbiters. It is of a completely new type and if one of the sides is not satisfied with the decision, they will be able to lodge an appeal at second instance:

These arbiters will be appointed under certain international criteria among senior magistrates from the country of the applicant for such arbitration. That is why there can be absolutely no fears of anything happening that will be detrimental to Bulgaria. There is also a provision that if the sides do not want arbitration, then the national legislation can be applied. The system is absolutely open and facilitating, especially for SMEs, Kovatchev says.

The concerns of the Bulgarian Industrial Association, civil society organizations and trade unions, however, stem from the fact that foreign investors will be able to take legal action against the country if they estimate that the laws in place in the country reduce their profits even when the legal framework protects the life, health and well-being of the public.

The public and businesses are worried about GMOs but also about shale gas and standards, Andrey Kovatchev says. The trade agreement does not include any provisions that change, lower or abolish the high standards we have within the EU or compliance with our laws. As any other trade agreement it can be amended or adapted to new conditions. All criticism has been taken into consideration and the agreement has been brought into compliance with the requirements of the trade unions and of businesses which did not want investors to appoint private arbiters who would rule in their favour, and the ruling would be final. All this has been taken into account, and if any problems are to emerge in the future it can be amended.”

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), however, has its reservations. Daniele Basso, ETUC international trade advisor said, for Radio Bulgaria, that they have managed to introduce a “joint interpretative instrument”, to restrict the application of the safeguard clause protecting investors. Unfortunately, what they have failed to do is introduce a clause that will impose sanctions for violations of workers’ rights.

Photos: BGNES

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