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CETA and the Great Lakes

The Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) will have implications for the Great Lakes. 

The Globe and Mail reports, “‎Under the free-trade agreement, key pieces of the highly protected Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River shipping business will be opened up to foreign competition for the first time, with no reciprocal access to the European market.”

“The free-trade deal would allow European operators to carry empty containers in Canadian waters, bid on dredging projects as well as carry cargo between Halifax and Montreal.”

While the shipping industry would be liberalized, the Harper government has said that all existing environmental regulations (such as they are) would remain in place. But in the absence of the federal government making the text of CETA public, and their gutting of previous environmental protections, these assurances mean little. 

The article also highlights, “‎Under Canada’s Coasting Trade Act, virtually all ships plying Canadian waters must be flagged in Canada, with crews trained and certified here.”

“Without those protections, the industry warned it could face unfair competition from lower-cost European operators. The Seafarers’ International Union of Canada said ships flying European ‘flags of convenience’ will be able enter Canadian waters ‘without any restrictions on origin of the crew, or level of wage and working conditions.'”

This will have implications for the 44,000 people who currently work in the shipping industry on the Great Lakes. 

And with CETA it is expected that the volumes of goods shipped on the ecologically sensitive Great Lakes ‎and St. Lawrence River will dramatically increase.

The investor-state clause in CETA should also bring some concern with respect to the impact of the “free trade” agreement on the Great Lakes. 

With tougher ballast regulations being sought by the public (but opposed by the shipping industry), stricter regulations on the fuel used and the materials allowed on the waters required, and other protections needed to guarantee the integrity of the source of drinking water for millions of people, we should be concerned that European investors may see commons-based environmental protections as an infringement on their profits thus causing a chill effect preventing such measures or costly public pay-outs to these corporations. 

Given the shared authority for the Great Lakes with the United States, we will continue to follow this issue with respect to the U.S.-EU Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) as well.

The Council of Canadians will be joining with the Seafarers’ International Union (SIU) for a protest against CETA on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on September 26.