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CUPE is joining more than 70 civil society groups from Europe, Canada and Quebec to demand that Canada and the EU stop negotiating an excessive and controversial investor rights chapter in the proposed Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

The groups issued a joint statement today ahead of a two-day meeting in Ottawa between European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht and Canadian International Trade Minister Ed Fast, where the two hope to move the CETA negotiations forward if not to conclude an agreement.

We will vigorously oppose any transatlantic agreement that compromises our democracies, human and Indigenous rights, and our right to protect our health and the planet,” says the transatlantic statement, endorsed by more than 70 organizations. “We urge the EU and Canadian governments to follow the lead of the Australian government by stopping the practice of including investor-state dispute settlement in their trade and investment agreements, and to open the door to a broad re-writing of trade and investment policy to balance out corporate interests against the greater public interest.”

Investor-state dispute settlement is a process found in many Canadian and European trade and investment agreements, including NAFTA and the hundreds of bilateral investment treaties that EU members states have signed with developing countries and with each other. The process allows a firm in one country to sue the government of the other country if the firm feels its investor rights have been violated. In a very real sense, these investment rules create a parallel legal system for multinational corporations and private investors, who are using them increasingly to challenge environmental, public health and other government policies, decisions, laws and measures that interfere in some way with the “right” to make a profit.

Recent high-profile cases include the $250-million NAFTA lawsuit threatened by Lone Pine Resources against Quebec’s ban on hydraulic fracturing (fracking), a €3.7-billion claim by Swedish Energy firm Vattenfall against Germany’s decision to phase out nuclear power, ExxonMobil and Murphy Oil’s successful case against provincial profit-sharing rules on offshore oil development, and U.S.-based Renco Group’s $800-million claim against a Peruvian requirement to clean up the extreme pollution caused by its smelter in La Oroya.

Qualitative research suggests that the treaties are not a decisive factor in whether investors go abroad… Based on a lack of economic benefits, and evidence that investment treaties do pose risks to environmental measures, a Sustainability Impact Assessment of CETA urged the European Union not to include [investor-state dispute settlement] in the agreement. Like the European Parliament, this independent report for the European Commission suggested a state-to-state dispute process is more appropriate in the EU-Canada context,” says the joint statement issued today by transatlantic civil society groups.

The Australian government decided in 2011 it would stop including these rights and investor-state dispute settlement in its trade and investment agreements. Many countries, including South Africa and India, are rethinking their investment treaties because of the way corporations and law firms have abused them to undermine democracy and public policies globally. Several Latin American countries are cancelling their investment treaties for the same reason.

In 1998, European and Canadian opposition to investor-state dispute settlement put an end to the planned Multilateral Investment Agreement, which would have extended these extreme investor protections to the entire OECD region. In the same spirit and in light of the rebirth of this failed corporate project in the Canada-EU trade deal, the European, Canadian and Quebec groups listed below “demand that the EU and Canada cease negotiating investor rights and an investor-state dispute settlement process into the CETA.”