Why I voted against CETA

Today I voted against CETA, having come to the conclusion it favours big business over people. Twitter was pleased but 141 characters doesn't leave much room for nuance.

I voted against CETA because it is the first trade agreement to use ‘negative listing’ rather than ‘positive listing’. I believe this sets a dangerous precedent. Negative listing means as a default all services are open to private tender, unless they are specifically listed as exemptions. No one has a crystal ball and even with the best will in the world there could be services we have not considered that we might in the future want to protect from privatisation. Meanwhile the ratchet mechanism, whereby services are liberalised permanently, complicates re-nationalisation.


I couldn’t vote for a treaty that doesn’t stand up for workers’ rights and in CETA there are no sanctions if labour rights are violated.

Those who followed the TTIP debate will know about ISDS, the system of separate, secret, corporate courts. ISDS has been replaced in CETA by a new multilateral investment tribunal which is a better system but it is still only for foreign investors. I see no justification for foreign investors to have access to a court that an NGO, trade union or private citizen can't use. We must have a level playing field. I am also unconvinced of how the improved system tackles the so-called regulatory chill effect where governments are worried about regulating on environmental issues or others just in case they are taken to court by an investor.

Thus far, so good, and weighing up the emails in my inbox with more than five hundred constituents demanding I vote against and precisely zero telling me to vote in favour, perhaps it should have been an easy decision, but it wasn't.

It would have been an easy decision for me if, like some of Labour's political opponents, I was simply anti global trade. However I’m not and I don't think this should ever be the policy of Labour if we are to return to government again.

I support doing trade deals and CETA is the EU’s most ambitious free trade agreement ever. Its full implementation would eliminate 99% of tariffs on goods and enable mutual recognition of professional qualifications.

Free trade opens new markets for our products and expands possibilities for consumers. Businesses across the East of England depend on trade to create jobs and prosperity. The life sciences industry, especially important for Cambridgeshire’s economy, would gain greater protection for research-based pharmaceutical products.


Of course as progressives we want good trade, not a race to the bottom, but that is why we campaign with our trade union partners for binding labour and environmental standards in international trade agreements. We don't just shout no from the sidelines.

This particular deal is with Canada and perhaps it was growing up watching the TV show Due South (where a Canadian Mounty fought crime while retaining a relentlessly helpful and polite demeanour in the face of less pleasant Americans), but I'm left asking, if we can't do a deal with Canada who can we do one with? We are talking about Canada, one of the world's most progressive countries that shares our values of democracy, tolerance and freedom, where Justin Trudeau, is the left of centre Prime Minister.

What message does voting against CETA send to Canada? This isn't a "Canada first" or "Europe first" trade deal, rather it involves give and take. Given that Canada's nearest neighbour is spouting protectionist rhetoric, is now the time to throw out decades of work on our trade deal, or time for solidarity?

We have secured hard won concessions. Labour always said we would oppose the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) in CETA and previously in TTIP. ISDS has gone and been replaced by the judge led Tribunal System. There is a danger of being seen to move the goal posts as our concerns are addressed.

Finally, we shouldn't confuse problems with a Tory Government with problems with CETA. The German, Finnish and Czech governments have all ensured exemptions that cover all of their health, social services and education. Let's lay the blame at the door of the Tories that Britain hasn't. The real way to stop privatisation is to elect a Labour Government.

The debate around free trade is particularly important for us in the Labour Party in this post-Brexit landscape. How can Labour decide which trade deals to support? One thing we can all agree on is that no deal will ever be perfect. As I cast my vote against CETA I wondered, what Labour will do when trade deals that are worse than CETA are on the table. A potential deal with President Trump is certainly not going to protect our public services, workers´ rights or food standards. Yet deals like that may be the only ones on the table.

The reality is that you will never get a perfect trade deal, as politics isn't about perfection but the art of the possible. Voting for CETA this week was a step too far for me. But it was close.


published this page in Articles 2017-02-16 13:22:50 +0000

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