As the Canada – EU Trade Agreement faces mounting opposition in Europe, it is worth looking back at the late stages of CETA negotiations that occurred after an October 2013 announcement that a deal had been reached. That announcement did not include a release of the text, which was still the subject of months of negotiations. In fact, long after the initial announcement, there were reports that European concerns with investor-state dispute settlement provisions were about to derail the entire agreement. By July 2014, it was obvious that CETA was in jeopardy. In August 2014, there were more assurances from the Canadian government about an agreement, but still no text. That same month, the agreement finally did become public, but only after a German public television leaked it online.
Documents obtained under the Access to Information Act show that Canadian government officials scrambled to respond. While the official line will be familiar – “Canada does not comment on the leaks of purported negotiating texts” – internally, officials were left scrambling as the agreement leaked in real time. In fact, after learning that additional appendices and materials had leaked online, Canadian official joked that “they’re scanning as fast as they can.”
The government officials may have sought to downplay the leaks, but more interesting is the response from Industry Canada:
“Given that the CETA text has already been leaked, could we get a copy of the consolidated text with attachments (annexes, side letters etc.)?”
In other words, even Canadian departments responsible for specific issues within CETA were kept in the dark about the overall text. This approach confirms consistent criticisms of Canadian negotiations during CETA and TPP. Namely that there is little overall strategy and that departments are often unaware of the actual text of the agreement. When your own government officials are reliant on leaks for information about the deal, perhaps it is time to acknowledge that a change in approach is needed.