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ECJ rules EU and Canada trade agreement follows EU laws

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on Tuesday that the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the EU follows EU laws. The court decision was requested by Belgium and was focused on the section of CETA that concerns resolution of investment disputes between investors and states.

CETA will establish a Investment Court System (ICS) to handle disputes between investors and states. The system will include a Tribunal, an Appellate Tribunal, and a multilateral investment tribunal. The Tribunal will include 15 members: five from Canada, five from EU member states and five from third countries.

Belgium filed the request for a decision from the ECJ because the ECJ has exclusive jurisdiction over the definitive interpretation of EU law. The ECJ found that CETA did not violate this principle as long as the CETA Tribunals do not attempt to interpret EU laws.

Belgium was also concerned that the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism would violate the EU’s principle of equal treatment in regards to treatment of a suit raised by a Canadian investor against an EU enterprise. The ECJ found that the equal treatment provision is not violated for a non-EU investor making a suit against an EU member state. The ECJ also found that EU law permits annulment of a fine by an EU member state if the CETA Tribunal finds a defect.

The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights also gives the right of access to an independent tribunal, which Belgium believed may be violated by the establishment of the CETA Tribunal. The concern was based on the fees and costs associated with the Tribunal which may make it difficult for small enterprises to bring a claim. The Commission has committed to providing co-financing for small and medium-sized entities before the Tribunal. The ECJ found these commitments to be sufficient to meet EU law.