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Barlow calls on Trudeau to protect water from NAFTA

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow is calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to support our demand to remove water as a tradable good, service and investment from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

US President Donald Trump has signalled that NAFTA will be renegotiated, Trump’s billionaire commerce secretary says that everything is on the table, and a Trump spokesperson has stated that Trump and Trudeau will meet within the “next thirty days or so”, meaning late in February.

In her book Boiling Point, Barlow highlights, “Removing all references to water as a good from NAFTA would end the debate on whether the federal and provincial bans on water exports are sufficient, as it would remove any potential for a NAFTA challenge. Removing water as a service would help protect water as an essential public service. Removing it as an investment and excluding investor-state dispute settlement provisions would make it much harder for foreign corporations to use trade treaties to fight domestic or international rules that protect water.”

The Frontier Centre for Public Policy has estimated that Manitoba could make $1.33 billion a year by exporting 1 per cent of the fresh water that flows into Hudson Bay via a pipeline to American markets. And former CIBC World Markets economist Jeff Rubin has stated, “Increasingly, states like California and Florida are turning to desalination to meet their freshwater needs. At around 65 cents per cubic meter, the going rate of desalinated water in the United States provides a very attractive pricing point for potential Canadian water exports.”

Even former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien has raised the question of bulk water exports. He has provocatively commented, “We’re selling oil. It’s finite. We’re selling natural gas. It’s finite. Water, it’s raining and snowing in Canada every year. Water is something that is not finite.”

And resource economist Wendy Holm has warned, “The Site C Dam [in northeastern British Columbia] is exactly where it needs to be to deliver continental water sharing plans that were put in place in the 1950s after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers mapped Canada’s water resources in fulfillment of their mandate to the U.S. Government to make sure America ‘doesn’t run out of water’. …The stopping of the Site C Dam will also completely thwart the dreams of engineering companies to look at continental water sharing through the Peace Valley. It is impossible without the Site C Dam.”

She also highlights, “With NAFTA in place we have lost our sovereign rights to stop these sorts of things. With BC Hydro privatized, it will be in investors hands. We are making probably the biggest policy mistake we could.”

Trump and US corporate interests could be very interested in bulk water exports from Canada.

Business Insider has reported, “While the rest of the US hasn’t been ordered to reduce water use [as has happened in California], that doesn’t mean we have a free pass to use as much water as we want. Many states — 40 out of 50 according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office — have at least one region that’s expected to face some kind of water shortage in the next 10 years.”

Our existing protections against bulk water exports are weak.

In 1999, the federal and provincial governments entered into a voluntary agreement banning bulk water exports. But any province that chose to lift that voluntary ban and approve bulk water exports would put pressure on every other province because the NAFTA Chapter 11 provision could be used by a company denied permission to export water from any other province. In 2012, the Harper government passed C-383, a bill touted as a means to ban bulk water exports. But the Act does not protect non-boundary waters, allows bulk removals of 50,000 litres of water per day, and exempts water in manufactured goods including beverages.

The Council of Canadians calls on the Trudeau government to remove water from NAFTA.