11 January 2017

Lowering EU standards due to trade pressure from Canada - 3 examples

CETA will strengthen Canada's ability to pressure EU regulators and undermine standards. Here's how it's already happening.


Proving that standards are being lowered due to trade pressure is not easy. The EU Commission or Council do not exactly produce public documents admitting that they lowered EU standards or intend to do so due to foreign influence. However, internal documents show in a number of cases that action was taken to address the trade concerns of the other side. And issues raised at the WTO level by specific governments or trade concerns referred to in impact assessments can serve as a good indicator when corresponding action is being proposed by the Commission.

CETA will strengthen the position of Canadian interests in relation to the EU because it provides additional instruments to pressure regulators.

Below are three examples of EU standards having been lowered or being proposed to be lowered due to pressure from Canada.

1. The Fuel Quality Directive

The EU‘s Fuel Quality Directives’ (FQD) ambitious 2011 targets for implementation faced vocal opposition from big oil, the refining industry, business representatives and the Canadian government, with help from the UK, according to this exposé. Link to the briefing documents and letters between officials here, media reports about Canada threatening with a trade war here. Extract from Reuters:

"Canada has been lobbying the Commission and member states intensively to avoid a separate default value for fuel derived from tar sands," said a briefing note prepared by EU officials for climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard."It has raised the issue in the context of EU-Canada negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement," adds the note, one of several from last year released last week under freedom-of-information laws.

After years of disagreement among Member States, the Commission tabled a watered-down proposal in 2014, which would no longer allow for suppliers to report on the basis of actual feedstocks they use, so as to allow the imports of fuels from Canadian tarsands. ENVI adopted a motion for a resolution opposing this. The plenary vote had 337 MEPs vote against the Commission proposal, 12 more than the 325 MEPs in favour, but not enough for the qualified majority of 376 needed to reject it.

The link between COM action and Canadian interests is clearly stated in the restricted Council Note of 2014 in relation to the EU-Canada summit (document available upon request): “Energy has been an underperforming area of cooperation with Canada, due in part to Canada’s opposition to the pending implementing measure under the EU’s Fuel Quality Directive. This measure is about to be tabled by the European Commission, following very close consultations with the Canadian side and other stakeholders, and should address Canada’s key concerns.”

Full NGO briefings on TTIP, CETA and the FQD can be found here and an NGO report on Canada’s lobby efforts on the FQD here (see p. 5 ff.).

2. Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs)

Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, or EDCs, are harmful chemicals that cause a wide range of diseases, including cancer, birth defects and other developmental disorders. They are conservatively estimated to cost the EU over € 150 billion each year.

As part of EU regulation of those chemicals, the European Commission is required under the EU pesticides and biocides regulations to provide scientific criteria for the identification of EDCs. In this context, it has itself admitted to an “aggressive and well orchestrated attack” by the U.S., Canada and other countries who consider this measure as a trade barrier (European Commission internal memo, August 2015).

The European Commission is trying to accommodate those concerns by proposing to lower EU standards. The Commission proposes modifying a derogation in the EU pesticides legislation to enable the continued use of dangerous chemicals that disrupt our hormone system by moving from a hazard-based exemption to a risk-based exemption, and thus allow setting higher maximum residue limits. In its own impact assessment, the Commission referred to ‘mounting’ pressure by the EU trade partners, and that “the more the implementation of criteria is based on risk rather than hazard, the more compliant is the EU with its international obligations” [WTO].

For several years now, Canada has joined the US and other countries in trying to overturn the hazard-based approach, as mandated by the biocide and pesticide regulations.  Since March 2015, Canada has argued against the EU approach to EDCs at every single meeting of the World Trade Organization’s Technical Barriers to Trade Committee (minutes of the meetings of March 2015, June 2015, November 2015, March 2016 and June 2016).

Moreover, in its comments to the Commission on the proposed criteria for endocrine disruptors, submitted in July 2016, Canada said that the EU’s approach was in violation of WTO commitments (which are mirrored in CETA’s chapters four and five, thus providing Canada with additional avenues to pressure EU policy).

The minutes of a meeting obtained through a freedom of information request reveal that in July 2016 the Commission tried to appease the ambassadors of the US, Canada and other countries in a high-level meeting with Commissioner Andriukaitis. According to the minutes, the “CDN ambassador referred to the recent glyphosate case, GM authorizations and now ED proposals with signal that EU is moving away from a scientific risk assessment and thus breaching WTO-SPS obligations. He urges COM not to apply hazard approach alone. CDN expresses expectation that in future MRLs for imports can continue to be set.”  At the end of the meeting, a Commission official clarified “that COM proposal foresees possibility to establish MRLs, which should be accepted as an ambitious proposal to address the concerns expressed by the Ambassadors”. Here a very recent article about this by Euractiv.

Adopting the Commission proposal (here the latest one, second revision) would lower the level of protection to chemicals that have endocrine disrupting properties, see Client Earth or Chemtrust.

Moreover, according to legal advice from the European Parliament’s legal services, it would even exceed its powers with this proposed amendment. 

3. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

In February 2016,MEPs called on the Commission not to authorise the use of glyphosate-tolerant GM soybean products, noting that glyphosate had been classed by the World Health Organisation as “probably carcinogenic”, and that member state did not support authorisation.

In April 2016, Canada’s soybean industry asked the European Commission for a formal explanation regarding its delay in finalising the approvals of three genetically modified (GM) soybean products. It cited CETA: “The EU is also failing to respect a commitment it made to Canada during the Canada – European Union Free Trade negotiations,” says Everson.  The Commissioner responsible for the GM approval process at that time committed the Commission to process GM event applications “as fast as possible within the procedures laid down in the EU approval legislation”.

On 22 July 2016, the Commission authorised the use of these soybeans based solely on EFSA’s risk assessment. In doing to, it ignored its obligations pursuant to EU food law (Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 to consider other factors legitimate to the matter under consideration as well as the precautionary principle for the risk management decision.

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