The impact of CETA on the environment, climate and health

Facing criticism and pressure from NGOs and other groups about the threats posed by new generation of trade agreements, Emmanuel Macron made a promise during the Presidential elections in France in May 2017: To appoint an independent commission of experts in order to evaluate the impact of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the European Union and Canada on the environment, climate and health. The French President also committed to take into account concretely the Commission’s conclusions. 

In a Mission letter dated 5 July 2017, the Prime Minister engaged the commission of nine experts to "provide an objective, scientific and quantitative perspective on the impact of CETA on the environment, the climate, and health, should all of its provisions be fully enforced". The commission of experts handed over its report to the Prime Minister on September 7, 2017. 

Report conclusions confirm risks and concerns

Although sometimes with some contradicting contents, the report conclusions confirm most of the numerous risks and concerns pointed out by studies and analyses published by civil society groups for the past few years: 

CETA presents significant shortcomings and risks for the environment, climate and health.

The report points out for example that the introduction of the International Court System (ICS) is not justified and that environmental and health public policies might be challenged through ICS by foreign investors. 

Other interesting excerpts from the report: 

  • « The CETA treaty does not prioritize concerns relating to the protection of the environment and health. » (page 24) 
  • « Its content will be detailed and completed by the co-operation bodies it creates. The "living" character of the agreement avoids fixing the relations between the EU and Canada in a rapidly-changing world, but inevitably raises uncertainties and risks as to the manner in which this evolution plays out. » (page 5) 
  • «The absence of explicit reference to this term [precautionary principle] in the agreement text however raises uncertainty about the possibility of a dispute with Canada with respect to future legislation. » (page 6) 
  • « In participating in this kind of activity [regulatory co-operation], the EU or a State exposes itself to various pressures which might lead to a strategy of attrition, recoiling from any such legislation altogether, or considerably softening its scope. Furthermore, the requirement to communicate legislative proposals at an early stage makes them all the easier to oppose effectively and could short-circuit domestic democratic processes such as public consultation procedures. » (page 36) 2 
  • « CETA's vagueness means that we cannot exclude the arrival on the European market of products approved under regulations which do not take into account the precautionary principle. » (page 22) 
  • « Biotechnology is also an area which requires vigilance. » (page 47) 
  • « It is a concern that the co-operation procedures towards harmonization of the maximum residue limits (MRL) for pesticides in agricultural food products may lead to downward harmonization. » (page 47) 
  • « it is not possible to entirely exclude the risk of undermining the EU regulatory framework concerning food, animal health and welfare, plant protection and living intellectual property, but it is also currently impossible to provide an objective assessment of this risk. » (page 44) 

The report also provides a large number of concrete recommendations aiming at addressing those issues and reducing the identified risks. The implementation of several of those proposals actually require a modification of the CETA text agreement, such as the need for further reform the ICS and the “climate veto”. 

Action plan of the French Goverment

In response to the experts’ report, the French Government produced an action plan that includes measures to put the provisionary application of CETA under surveillance, as well as complementary measures to be developed on climate and health and broader reforms for the EU trade agenda. 

Unfortunately, the French authorities have not respected Emmanuel Macron’s commitment. The Government’s action plan does not address what is at stake. The President did not even try to convince its European and Canadian partners to revise the agreement. But only a complete revision of the text could transform CETA into an acceptable trade agreement, that would respect social rights and uphold the protection of consumers, workers and our environment and climate. 

It is far from being the case, and several significant risks underlined by the expert’s commission remain unaddressed, while CETA will create a precedent for several trade agreements under negotiation by the EU.