Uber and CETA

It was announced by Transport for London (TfL) today that Uber will be stripped of its licence to operate taxis in the Capital, because “Uber’s approach and conduct demonstrate a lack of corporate responsibility” in relation to reporting serious criminal offences, obtaining medical certificates and driver background checks. Uber has responded by saying that it plans to immediately challenge the ruling by London’s transport authority in the courts. Incidentally, Uber only got its licence due to high level corruption in the UK government.

On a related matter, UK prime minister Theresa May was in Canada earlier this week for trade talks. This was all about a trade deal called the ‘Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement’ (CETA) between Canada and the European Union, a trade deal that came into effect yesterday. The UK will remain part of CETA until (or if!) Brexit happens in 2019. Theresa May was negotiating with the Canadians for a separate stand-alone CETA after the UK leaves the EU. Naturally enough, this pleased the Brexiteers; but as is often the case, things are not quite what they seem.

CETA is a sister deal to the ‘Transatlantic Trade and Investments Partnership’ (TTIP), a proposed trade deal between the USA and EU. I say ‘proposed’ because TTIP died a death last year following massive public protests against it. TTIP contained many assaults on civil liberties, but the most egregious was the ‘Investor-state dispute settlement’ (ISDS), which allows corporations to sue governments in secret tribunals – special courts – for pursuing policies which harm their profits; ie, it gives corporations legal power above sovereign governments, which includes power above government legislation about such things as health and safety and the environment (if interested you can find a longer read about it here).

Trade deals and all their acronyms are not exactly riveting stuff, so let me get back to Uber, which is a large multi-national corporation with its headquarters in the USA. Under CETA any US company with offices in Canada (which is just about all of them, including Uber) can also use this trade agreement to deal with the European Union. CETA also contains the Investor-state dispute settlement mechanism. In otherwords, CETA is just TTIP by the back door. This perhaps leaves the 64,000 dollar question: will Uber try to overturn the Transport for London decision in the UK courts (which will be costly and time consuming), or, now that CETA is a formal EU trade deal, will Uber invoke the Investor-state dispute settlement mechanism?

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