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Canadians Need to Know the Truth About the TPP

Co-authored by Sujata Dey. Published in the Huffington Post.

This week, ministers from 12 countries representing 40 per cent of the world’s economy will meet to discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership, one of the largest trade agreements ever. As talks are rushed to conclusion, Canada is still fighting to have its supply management system excluded from the deal.

We wish the government well in its quest to protect supply management, but we wish it would go to bat for other core Canadian values and industries.

Unlike our European and even American counterparts, Canadian discussion on the TPP has been limited to chickens, eggs and milk. There has been virtually no parliamentary debate on the merits or pitfalls of the deal. According to a Trade Justice Network poll conducted in June, three-quarters of Canadians hadn’t even heard of the TPP.

There’s a good reason for that: the TPP has been negotiated completely in secret. The agreement is accessible only by participating negotiators and advisors, who are forbidden from talking about it. As one advisor told Politico, “Anyone who has read the text of the agreement could be jailed for disclosing its contents. I’ve actually read the TPP text provided to the government’s own advisors, and I’ve given the president an earful about how this trade deal will damage this nation. But I can’t share my criticisms with you.”

Our own MPs do not have access to the text. Not only that, many chapters and articles will continue to be secret four years after the deal goes into effect.

What we don’t know can’t hurt us, right? Wrong.

From the few sections that have leaked, a pattern emerges: business lobbyists and elites are carving out a deal in the interests of billionaires at the expense of the public interest. A cursory glance at the affected sectors tells a chilling story.

Health care: Patent protections will be extended through the agreement, significantly delaying the arrival of cheaper generic medicines. Estimates are patent extentions could cost our public health care system at least $2 billion a year. For less developed countries in the accord, this could be a severe blow.

Jobs: As with NAFTA, low-wage countries such as Vietnam and Malaysia will become beacons for further displacement of manufacturing jobs. Even many proponents’ figures show negligible economic growth as a result of the TPP. Many of the same models that promised huge growth and job gains under other trade agreements such as NAFTA have been discounted.

Foreign investment screening regulations: Canada is being pressured to give up its regulation of foreign investment, an essential tool to maintaining economic sovereignty.

Food security: Supply management protects local food systems and ensures that Canadian farmers in northern climates are given the ability to price according to demand. This protects small farms and locally sourced agriculture. Observers expect Canada to lose the battle to hold on to supply management.

State-owned enterprises: According to a document leaked on Wikleaks, the CBC and Canada Post could be jeopardized. State-owned enterprises in the TPP could be severely restricted and subject to rules which force them to give up their public service mandates in order to become purely profit-driven organizations. They would also be prohibited from sourcing services from local or national sources exclusively.

Democracy and the environment: The investor-state dispute settlement clause in the TPP, like in NAFTA, allows corporations to sue countries if their regulations interfere with profit. To date, countries have been sued for banning neurotoxins, disallowing quarries for environmental reasons, putting health warnings on cigarettes, implementing minimum wage regulations, protecting public health, and banning nuclear energy and fracking. Canada is already the most sued developed country in the world, costing us hundreds of millions of dollars.

Opponents of trade agreements are not flat-world theorists out of touch with the new global realities. Nor are they de facto against profit or progress or the future. But they are justifiably concerned.

In the U.S., Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have voiced significant opposition, to the point that the Senate has filibustered the deal. Even some Republicans are opposed to the deal, concerned about its effects on the American economy. In Australia, a caucus composed of Labor, Greens and independents are opposing the TPP. Prominent economists such as Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman are voicing their concerns.

Trade deals work when they protect and encourage jobs and the social good, not when they privilege the interests of corporations and the one per cent. In our upcoming federal election campaign, no Canadian political party would campaign against health care, employment, and democracy. But if they adopt this secretive, under the radar agreement, they will be doing just that

Maude Barlow is the National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians. Sujata Dey is the Trade Campaigner at the Council of Canadians.