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European trade negotiators eye municipal water utilities, hospitals

“Access to Canada’s lucrative public works market is propelling the European Union towards a free trade pact with Ottawa despite fears a deal could swamp Europe with cheap goods or erode environmental rules in Canada,” writes Reuters today. The article, which ran in the online edition of the Report on Business, gives us more evidence of how modest Canada’s demands are relative to those of the EU in the proposed trans-Atlantic Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.

“European industry wants access to Canada’s regional and local public works contracts, from provincial energy infrastructure to municipal water works and hospital equipment,” says the article. In return, Canada wants to sell more auto parts, insurance, beef, grain and pork, and to lock Canadian investment in eastern European mining operations through a NAFTA-like investor-state dispute process.

But ambitions are obviously very low in Canada: “If we get something in the order of one to three per cent of EU consumption, that’s certainly something that’s value enough for our industry,” said Daryl Hanak, chief negotiator for Alberta. It is incredibly frustrating how much the Harper government and to-date unaccountable provincial trade negotiators are willing to put on the table in terms of policy space for the cities, provinces and territories, for so little in return.


Reuters also spoke to the recent Trade Justice Network delegation to Brussels, which included the Council of Canadians, and which was in Europe explain the many Canadian concerns with CETA to EU policymakers:

The activists say opening up public procurement contracts such as for municipal water works to private providers, or extending EU drug patents, would erode key social services. They say environmental protection could be at risk if Canada signs new guarantees for European investment in exploiting the Alberta oil sands.

“Members of the European Parliament typically think this is an uncontentious issue,” Larry Brown, national secretary for Canada’s National Union of Public and General Employees, told the Reuters reporter. “The more we go into detail, the more worried they become.”

Meera Karunananthan, water campaigner with the Council, explained how CETA threatens public water in a recent op-ed for Rabble.ca. It’s an argument that resonates among European environmental, development and fair trade groups who have been fighting the European Commission’s inclusion of water services in trade deals with developing countries.


Jason Langrish of the Canada-Europe Roundtable for Business (CERT), a trans-Atlantic corporate lobby group that accompanies Canadian negotiators to all CETA negotiating rounds and has quasi-endorsement from the Harper government and European Commission, explained to Reuters:

It’s an important agreement for European and Canadian business, and one hopes it will break down some of our inter-provincial trade barriers… Sometimes it’s easier for Canadian politicians to say: ‘Brussels made me do it’.

We’ve been saying for a while that recently signed inter-provincial trade deals, including TILMA and the Ontario-Quebec Trade and Cooperation Agreement, are paving the way for the Canada-EU free trade deal. Now it appears the opposite is also true — that an EU deal will by default force controversial changes to the Canadian federation that will limit political (and therefore public) regulation of all kinds of economic activity.

Canada’s lead negotiator has mentioned several times that the EU thinks there are too many barriers to trade between provinces. But EU negotiators, as well as like-minded libertarian and right-wing think tanks in Canada supportive of the TILMA project, have been unable to name any.

There are no real inter-provincial barriers to trade, investment and very few for labour mobility in Canada. But corporate lobby groups and their policy fan clubs have latched upon minuscule and economically insignificant regulatory differences between some provinces as the biggest threat Canada has seen to business competitiveness. They are so loud and persistent about it, despite all evidence, that European investors and corporate think tanks have started spouting the same nonsense.

To read a new comic resource explaining what’s at stake for Canada if EU negotiators get most of what they want in the CETA negotiations, click here. The Reuters article today proves how depressingly little Canada is asking in return.