Brussels, 30 October 2015.
During the secret negotiations of the free trade agreement between the European Union and Canada (know as CETA), the European Commission always maintained that water would be excluded from the treaty, and that the choice on how to manage Services of General Economic Interest (SGEI) related to water (production and distribution of drinking water and sanitation, among others) by the public authorities would not be questioned. But a careful reading of the consolidated text of CETA, released the 26th of September of 2014 shows that the reality is different.
Rights and Obligations Relating to Water
The article "Rights and Obligations Relating to Water" is written in fuzzy legal terms, sometimes even in contradiction with EU and national legislation. No doubt the vagueness and loopholes in this article will facilitate a corporate capture of water by multinational companies in Europe and Canada. The article states that "water in its natural state [...] is not a good or a product and therefore [...] is not subject to the terms of this Agreement." But almost all water uses (drinking water, sanitation or agricultural irrigation) involves water extracted from its natural environment. It could, therefore, be considered as a good and a product, and could be treated as a commodity and therefore subject to CETA. The article adds: " Where a Party permits the commercial use of a specific water source, it shall do so in a manner consistent with the Agreement" without clearly defining what is a "commercial use” for water or a "specific water source." Currently it is up to Member States in Europe to allocate water abstraction rights and they do so by different criteria, but not with criteria based on trade and investment that can be found in free trade agreements. Under these conditions there is no other way to read this article as anything but one additional tool to move towards an increased water commodification.