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CETA critics urge premiers to consult widely on Canada–EU deal before it is signed

As reported widely on Monday, the Trade Justice Network and the Réseau québécois sur l’intégration continentale (RQIC) have sent a joint letter to Canadian premiers asking for a “full public airing” of the Canada–European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) before it is eventually signed. The letter went out Sunday, July 21 to give premiers time to consider the proposal for province-wide public consultations on CETA at the upcoming Council of the Federation meeting in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

“From early on in the Canada–EU negotiations, we have stressed that the negotiating process in the CETA is fundamentally flawed,” says the letter. “A confidentiality agreement signed by the provinces and territories as a condition of their participation in the CETA negotiations has made meaningful public consultation next to impossible. The federal parliamentary process for reviewing and approving trade and investment agreements is clearly insufficient. There is no room whatsoever for sober second thoughts on any aspect of these binding treaties. The current federal government has rejected virtually every amendment proposed by opposition parties to every trade agreement that has come before Parliament for review.”

The TJN and RQIC networks urge the premiers and the Council of the Federation “to champion the idea of a democratic review of the CETA in between conclusion of the negotiations and a formal signing of the agreement.” The letter mentions several precedents in Canada and globally for public engagement in national trade policy, including public hearings in B.C. in 1998 on the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) and the Saskatchewan government’s review in 2007 on the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement between B.C. and Alberta (now the New West Partnership Trade Agreement).

“If there is a difference between the CETA and these other trade and investment agreements it is surely that the Canada–EU agreement will have far greater impacts on provincial sovereignty, as well as on policy flexibility at all levels, including municipally. Examples include but are not limited to new restrictions on public purchasing (procurement), the extended application of investor-state dispute settlement to provincial measures, and the effect of EU-demanded pharmaceutical patent protections on provincial health costs.”


Former Quebec premier and CETA brainchild Jean Charest told Ipolitics.ca to keep an eye on the Council of the Federation meeting this week “because CETA will have to be on the agenda.” Charest said he does not believe the higher price of prescriptions drugs that provinces will pay as a result of stronger patent rules in CETA’s intellectual property rights chapter is that big an issue. He told Ipolitics, “A transition period that the federal government can organize is the answer, and I understand that’s where we’ll probably end up.”

That’s not good enough.

There has never been a consensus that stronger, longer patents are the best way to promote pharmaceutical innovation or public health. The idea is increasingly contested globally, especially as countries resist U.S. and EU demands for patent reform in their trade agreements. More expensive medication is a matter of life and death in many countries who rely on cheaper generic drugs to keep health costs low. These trade deals (well, the patent protections that are oddly built into them) compromise access to medicines.

In Canada, CETA could add up to $3-billion annually to the cost of prescription drugs, as predicted by one study. Caving in to the EU on this issue would send the wrong message to the world by confirming it’s distorted idea that the EU and U.S. intellectual property rights systems are the global norm. It would be simply a transfer of wealth from the public to brand name pharmaceutical companies, with no guarantees they will reinvest any of those extra profits in the Canadian economy.

The Council of Canadians is co-organizing (with the Ontario and Canadian Health Coalitions, and others) a shadow summit and rally for national public medicare outside this week’s Council of the Federation meeting in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Because we know CETA will be on the agenda, we’re bringing the Trojan Horse to represent the many hidden dangers in the EU deal, including higher drug costs. We’re asking the premiers to stand up to Harper on this issue, and we’ll be reinforcing the message in the TJN and RQIC letter that the people should have a chance to review CETA before it is signed.

To read the TJN and RQIC joint letter in English or French, see the TJN website here.