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Dear Members of the Cypriot Parliament,

We, a group of X organisations in the EU (and Canada) want to express our gratitude for voting down CETA at the Cypriot parliament. For the past 5 years millions of people both in the EU and in Canadahave raised their concerns and disapproval of the free trade agreement between Canada and the EU, including 20 Cypriot organisations with thousands of members. These include all agricultural organisations (EKA, Παναγροτικός, Ευρωαγροτικός, Νέα αγροτική, ΠΕΚ, Παγκύπριος Οικολογικός Αγροτικός Σύνδεσμος), all major labour-rights organisations (ΣΕΚ, ΠΕΟ, ΔΕΟΚ), and many environmental, consumer-rights, and health related organisations in the country. 

Having taken this brave decision, we all know that you are and will be facing external pressures, from the EU Commission, from different EU member states and from others, to change your votes. The pressure will increase to make concessions that will undermine the wellbeing and rights of your constituents, but at the same time you have the power to make real change for this agreement and for the future of trade policy in general. Know that in this endeavour you are not alone; half of the EU countries have still to pass the agreement and in some, like the Netherlands, CETA currently has no majority in the parliament/senate. In France, due to growing opposition, both in public opinion and among parliamentarians themselves, Emmanuel Macron effectively suspended the ratification process, preventing the Senate from taking a decision. In Germany there are still several lawsuits pending at the Federal Constitutional Court on the constitutionality of the agreement – something that was never challenged in the Cypriot context.

We believe you took the right decision, when you voted by a large majority against CETA. We want to encourage you to uphold your decision because of five major reasons why we are all better off without the ratification of CETA

  1. No ICS – The Investment Court Systems is a re-branding of the Investment Settlement Dispute System (ISDS). It is a mechanism for multinational corporations to avoid national and public courts and sue our governments for potential loss of profit against the protection of people, the environment and domestic businesses. It is the same system that Vgenopoulos and his associates used to sue your government for more than a billion euros for the events that unfolded in 2013. The decision on that case was in favour of the Cypriot government, but most cases  turn out in advantage for corporations. In other cases, even the fear of a claim arising and the uncertainty has a regulatory chilling effect on the appetite of the Government to pursue progressive policy and regulation in our citizens interests.
  2. Protect our sovereignty within committees: CETA has created a number of different committees with the purpose of improving trade collaboration between the two parties. These committees have the right to take decisions on issues like food standards, effective in the whole of the EU, without going through an elected body. Therefore, this is a direct attack on national sovereignty and democracy.
  3. Uphold our food standards: The precautionary principle is one of the most important and fundamental principles of the European Union for protecting all of us from harm. Canada is already pushing for the dismantling of this principle and getting reassurances that this is where we are heading. Moreover, pesticide residue levels for Canadian products entering the EU are being challenged with the threat of the involvement of the WTO and by the mentioned committees, while such a loosening of regulations would also open up regulatory harmonisation with the US.
  4. Demand democratic procedures: CETA at its root was an undemocratic process. Negotiations were done behind closed doors, without even the MEPs having open access to the document. Even worse in the case of Cyprus, as the minister himself stated, there was no public consultation in the country about the agreement. An agreement that affects every aspect of our lives, was approved by the president without even opening up for any concerns from the public.
  5. Halloumi: Finally, the situation that unfolded regarding the protection of halloumi from the government of Cyprus, only goes to show how little the government has studied the agreement or cared to protect the country’s interests.

Finally, as people in Cyprus and its Government like many nations grapple with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic – the chilling approach of lawyers seeking to exploit this situation to pursue claims against Governments for policies and regulations introduced to manage the spread of the pandemic and to deal with it – has to be in our minds. Earlier this year over 658 organisations signed an open letter highlighting this:

“At a time when government resources are stretched to the limit in responding to the crisis, public money should not be diverted from saving lives, jobs and livelihoods into paying ISDS awards or legal fees to fight a claim. And given that the battle against COVID-19 will continue, a spate of cases now could result in a ‘regulatory chilling’ effect, in which governments water down, postpone or withdraw actions to tackle the pandemic from the fear of such payments, which could be deadly.” 

CETA talks started 12 years ago, when the financial crisis was just getting started, ages before the world signed the Paris climate agreement and when awareness about rising inequality and the growing power of multinationals was far from mainstream.  It makes no sense to ratify a deal reflecting this outdated approach to trade. As we write a major consultation on the review of EU Trade Policy is being conducted. Also while CETA includes a marginally reformed version of ISDS with the new but still problematic Investor Court System, ICS the EU has not included such proposals in newer trade agreements like the Japanese deal. This is because agreements with ISDS/ICS have to be ratified by the Parliaments of the Member States, and that has become difficult given the extent of concerns with such mechanisms. Why should Cyprus support such outdated proposals, and leave itself exposed to claims under ISDS. It is also important to bear in mind even if we withdrew from the agreement at a later date, we would remain exposed to claims for 20 years after the termination of the agreement.[1]  

[1] Article 30.9(2) of the CETA agreement.

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