Press Release 30.11.2021

Last resort: foodwatch submits complaint to the European Ombudsman against CETA

  • Free trade agreements
  • Lack of Transparency: CETA committees meet behind closed doors
  • Lack of democratic control: CETA is side-lining the European Parliament

Brussels, 30 November 2021. After a long correspondence with European Commission / DG Trade on the trade agreement CETA, foodwatch has submitted today a complaint to the European Ombudsman. The complaint addresses the lack of transparency and democratic deficits of the CETA committees’ work. 

“We hope the European Ombudsman will accept our complaint and open an inquiry. CETA is a black box and might even be a box of Pandora for European food safety and health standards. We are not satisfied with the little information that is made available on the negotiations in CETA committees”, says Mirjam Hägele, International Campaign Director at foodwatch International.

Lack of Transparency: no detailed info available on CETA negotiations

CETA is a living agreement, negotiations between Canada and Europe continue in committee meetings. The committees meet behind closed doors, negotiating important issues like pesticide protection standards, food controls or genetic engineering standards. 

For example: Canada wants to get rid of the EU’s precautionary principle as a basis of pesticide standards on EU imports. A lot of money is at stake. Canadian agricultural exports worth more than 1.88 billion EUR (2.7 billion CAN $) per year are affected by European standards on Minimum Residue Levels (MRLs) of pesticides.1

Decisions on pesticide standards will affect 447 m EU citizens

”Decisions on pesticide standards within CETA will have a big impact on the food quality of 447 million EU citizens and their health. This is an issue of profound public interest. Yet, we have no way of knowing what is being negotiated”, stresses Hägele. 

Over the past two years, foodwatch has been working hard to find out what the European Commission and Canada are negotiating under the CETA trade agreement via publicly available documents as well by requesting access to further documents. Parts of the requested preparatory documentation have not been made accessible. All in all, the available documents did not provide sufficient insight into the activities of the CETA committees. 

Democratic deficits: far reaching decisions without democratic control  

The CETA committees’ decisions can have far-reaching consequences for EU citizens and many of those decisions are binding under international law. For example, once the responsible SPS Committee or the CETA Joint Committee recognize standards for sanitary and phytosanitary measures in the context of import checks as equivalent, these standards can no longer be raised by one of the parties without engaging in consultations with the other. Unilateral changes could lead to be sanctioned by the CETA Dispute Settlement Panel and would be a violation of international law. 

At the same time, CETA is side-lining the European Parliament. Only the Council of the European Union agrees on the positions to be adopted on the EU’s behalf in the Committees, whilst the European Parliament cannot express an opinion and is merely an observer.

“It is appalling that such decisions are made in secret with no public debate and without the democratic control of the European or national parliaments. foodwatch sees this as a severe democratic deficit that undermines the balance of power between European institutions. This needs to be tackled, the European Parliament must be substantially involved in the implementation of CETA,” says Hägele.