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Germany expresses concerns about US and Canada trade deals

Germany has put new barriers in the way of the EU’s proposed trade deals with Canada and the US by declaring outright opposition to controversial investor protection rules. Sigmar Gabriel, the economy minister, told the Bundestag on Thursday that he would block the planned investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clauses which would allow foreign companies to bypass national courts and instead appeal directly to international arbitration panels. • His intervention will irritate Canada and the US as well as the European Commission, which has been pressing hard to close the agreement with Ottawa during a summit on Friday. Brussels wants the Canadian pact, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, (Ceta) implemented smoothly, as it is widely seen as a forerunner for the far larger Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US. Germany, the EU’s biggest trading power, has raised objections to the proposed ISDS rules in the past. Opponents believe they infringe sovereignty and give unfair privileges to multinational groups. Mr Gabriel hardened Berlin’s position on Thursday by promising in parliament to exclude the provisions from both deals, making any compromise more difficult. “There must be no double standards. It must not be that international investors have rights and influence before arbitration tribunals, which national enterprises don’t have in their own country,” he said, noting that they were not included in US free trade deals with Australia, Singapore and Israel. Ceta is a good agreement. It would be wrong to put it into question in a fundamental way or to break it Supporters of the investor protection rules see them as essential to making the transatlantic pacts models for other deals. They also argue that dropping the protections from the US and Canada deals would make it more difficult to include them in investment treaties and trade deals with China and other emerging economies with fickle court systems where they are arguably more necessary. In his appearance on Thursday, Mr Gabriel did argue in favour of both the US and Canada trade agreements, rejecting claims from the opposition Green and Left parties that these pacts threatened workers’ rights, consumer freedoms and the environment. He condemned opponents of free trade as “job-killers” and added: “Ceta is a good agreement. It would be wrong to put it into question in a fundamental way or to break it.” But the economy minister dismissed demands from the current European trade commissioner Karel De Gucht for the quick enactment of the Canada deal, saying he was “going into retirement”. Instead he approvingly quoted incoming commission president Jean -laude Juncker, saying that while he supported trade deals he did not support those “done at any price”. Mr Gabriel also said there was still time for Germany to secure EU-wide support for its investor protection position, saying: “I think the last word has not yet been said.” Mr Gabriel’s intervention comes amid mounting European hostility to TTIP, in which concerns about investor protection clauses have mingled with fears of American big business and the extent of US electronic surveillance, as revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden. Mr Gabriel’s social democrats, who are in government with Ms Merkel’s CDU/CSU conservative bloc, include many trade unionists who worry that trade agreements benefit companies more than they help workers. Earlier this month, Mr Gabriel’s ministry issued a joint statement on TTIP with the DGB, the trade union federation, which supported free trade while opposing investor protection. It was widely seen as a way of binding the trade unions to the social democrats to prevent them slipping into opposition to TTIP.