Wallonia not against trade, but secret arbitration must go – Magnette

© Cathal McNaughton
The Belgian region of Wallonia is not opposed to EU trade with Canada, but insists the secret arbitration scheme in which corporations can sue governments be dropped from the agreement, Wallonia premier Paul Magnette told French daily Liberation on Tuesday.

“Let's be clear, I'm not a herald of anti-globalization, I want a deal,” he said in an interview with the daily.

The head of Belgium’s French-speaking region which is blocking the implementation of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) stressed that the crucial point of the deal is allowing big companies to sue the governments of EU member states.

A secret court system, organized to resolve disputes between investors and governments, can be used by big corporations to dictate public policy, according to the premier.

“I would prefer that this entity disappears pure and simple and that we rely on our courts or at the very least, if we want an arbitration court, it must provide equivalent guarantees to domestic ones,” said Magnette.

The premier referred to a legal mechanism known as the Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) that makes it possible for foreign businesses to challenge state interference, such as expropriation.

The lawsuit is commonly brought before a panel of private arbitrators, its members appointed by the investor and state in dispute. The scheme has met strong opposition due to lawsuits brought by companies against tighter rules on public health, environmental and labor standards.

Canada agrees with Wallonia on this matter, according to Magnette. “In truth, it's a debate that is purely internal to the European Union,” he said.

Wallonia is ready to accept a legally binding amendment to the deal that would interpret provisions on arbitration courts, public services and environmental legislation, though the regional parliament would have favored restarting negotiations on CETA.