As the Deputy will be aware, on 30th October 2016, the EU and Canada signed a free trade agreement - the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).
CETA has provisionally applied since 21st September 2017 meaning that duties on 98% of products (tariff lines) that the EU trades with Canada have been removed. The reduced trade barriers, tariff elimination, simplified customs procedures and more compatible technical requirements all make it easier and cheaper for Irish companies of all sizes to export to Canada. However, the Agreement includes provision for a mechanism for the settlement of disputes between investors and the EU or Canada, concerning the interpretation and application of the agreement, the Investment Court System (ICS) which had been excluded from provisional application as the CJEU was being asked to give its views on the compatibility of this element of CETA with EU law.
Specifically, on 7th September 2017, the Kingdom of Belgium requested the opinion of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) regarding the compatibility of the ICS with EU law. The Opinion of the Court in Case 1/17 was issued on 30th April 2019 and is in line with the earlier Opinion of Advocate General Yves Bot. The Court decision held that the dispute settlement mechanism in CETA is compatible with EU law and complies with (i) the principle of autonomy of EU law and the exclusive jurisdiction of the CJEU for the interpretation of EU law, (ii) the principle of autonomy of EU law and the exclusive jurisdiction of the CJEU for the interpretation of EU law, and (iii) the Charter of Fundamental Rights, in particular of the right of access to a court and right to an independent and impartial tribunal under the Charter.
This very recent decision of the Court means that no changes are required to be made to the text of the CETA, and EU Member States can proceed with ratification of CETA, according to the requirements of their national law.
While CETA has provisionally been applied since 21st September 2017 in respect of the trade elements, however, in order for all aspects of CETA to come into force, including the Investment Court System, the agreement must be ratified by all EU Member States. To date, 12 Member States have ratified CETA, while Ireland, along with several other Member States, chose to await the outcome of the CJEU opinion prior to considering the commencement of the ratification process at national level.
In light of the very recent opinion of the CJEU, my Department will be seeking to progress the necessary steps for Ireland’s ratification of CETA, including consultation with the Office of the Attorney General as well as submitting a Memorandum to Government requesting the Government to authorise the moving of a motion in Dáil Éireann (in accordance with Article 29.5.2 of the Constitution), seeking approval on the terms of the Agreement. If Dáil Éireann votes in favour of the Agreement Ireland will notify the General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union that we have completed our respective internal requirements and procedures concerning the ratification of CETA. While I cannot provide a precise timeframe for this ratification process, my Department is prioritising the matter.