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Harper set to make massive Trans Pacific Partnership concessions during this federal election

TPP Ottawa

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s trade minister Ed Fast will be in Atlanta next week for critical talks relating to the 12-country Trans Pacific Partnership ‘free trade’ deal.

CBC reports, “Canada is preparing to open the border to more American milk, without getting reciprocal access for Canadian dairy farmers in the United States… Trade Minister Ed Fast will leave the campaign trail to join his counterparts in Atlanta on Wednesday [Sept. 30], intent on concluding the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks. …What Fast offers could seriously disrupt the supply-managed dairy sector. The short strokes on dairy come down to how much of Canada’s domestic market would be opened up to American products to compensate U.S. dairy producers for opening up their market to TPP partners such as New Zealand, an aggressive and competitive dairy exporter.”

The article specifies, “Canada is prepared to offer up a significant share of its domestic market (as defined by consumption levels), including not only fluid milk, but also possibly butter, cheese, yogurt or the milk powders and proteins used to make other foods. The American goal for dairy market access was nine or 10 per cent, a figure that prompts dairy industry folk to use words like ‘enormous’ and ‘annihilation’. But even if Canadian negotiators successfully push back, an offer of even half that would be huge. …The trade deal would not offer Canadian dairy products any new international markets. So, more imports would mean a smaller Canadian industry.”

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow comments, “Another bad trade deal! The most awful part of this is that the Harper government admits that its concessions will shrink the number of farmers in Canada. What ‎kind of government would deliberately shrink their own food production?”

In terms of political consequences, the news report adds, “Quebec dairy farmers, often the most anxious and politically vocal, demonstrated in Montreal before Thursday’s leaders’ debate. But the political impact is not limited to the few seats the Conservatives still hold in that province. The effects could be spread across other rural ridings. Ontario seats like Perth-Wellington, won by a Conservative in 2011 who’s not running for re-election, could swing.”

The article also notes, “The list of outstanding issues is now very short: rules of origin for the automotive sector, which are also sensitive in Canada, as well as intellectual property protections for pharmaceuticals. …Conservative Leader Stephen Harper let slip in the Sept. 17 leaders’ debate in Calgary that the Canadian automotive sector will have to accept concessions in the final TPP deal.”

Last week, CTV reported, “The president of Canada’s largest private sector union says the Trans-Pacific Partnership could have ‘catastrophic effects’ on the nation’s economy. …[During the leaders debate], Conservative leader suggested that the auto sector may not ‘necessarily like everything’ in the deal. …[Jerry] Dias said his first reaction to the comments was that Harper just committed to flushing ‘25,000 good-paying, working-class job’ down the toilet. …Dias’ main concern is that Japan is lobbying for the easing of so-called rules of origin requirements, which would allow the country to export vehicles into North America with less parts manufactured in Canada.”

Common Dreams has reported, “Doctors Without Borders and Health Global Access Project [have] warned that the TPP will undermine efforts to ensure access to affordable, life-saving medicines in both the United States and abroad. …According to Health GAP, leaked drafts of the TPP revealed that the U.S. is seeking stronger, longer, and more accessible patent monopolies on medicines and new monopolies on drug regulatory data that would prevent marketing of more affordable generic equivalents. The TPP will reportedly also place some of the ‘most severe intellectual property rules ever demanded in international trade’, including strict price control measures and enhanced investor rights that would permit Big Pharma to sue governments when they expect profits will be undermined by government policy.”

And a document leaked on Wikileaks in July suggests the CBC and Canada Post could be also be jeopardized by the TPP. State-owned enterprises in the TPP could be severely restricted and subject to rules that force them to give up their public service mandates in order to become purely profit-driven organizations. They would also be prohibited from buying services exclusively from local or national sources.

It is now being reported that the deal is “98 per cent done” and that talks could be concluded at the Atlanta ministerial, which will take place just two weeks before the October 19 federal election.

In that regard, Inside U.S. Trade has noted, “[This August, the] Privy Council Office published an updated version of 2008 guidelines for operation of the government during an election. The new guidelines are largely the same as the previous version in detailing the ‘caretaker convention’ under which Canadian governments are expected to exercise restraint in their actions during the election period. …But the new version contains an additional clarification stating that this should not preclude Canada from participating in late-stage treaty negotiations when the timelines are out of its control.”

The Council of Canadians opposes the Trans Pacific Partnership. The concerns we have raised include: extended patent protections for prescription drugs that would delay the introduction of less-expensive generic drugs; a NAFTA Chapter 11-like investor-state dispute settlement provision, which would allow corporations to sue governments for compensation when environmental, health or other regulatory policies interfere with profits; procurement rules that would mean more corporate bidding-rights and restrictions on government spending to meet public interest priorities; common regulations and rules of origin; and the weakening of Canada’s supply management system.

Barlow highlights, “Once again the Harper government is forcing Canada into a major trade negotiation that will only benefit the 1 per cent. Like the Canada-EU deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership could force Canada to change its drug policies, its copyright policies, its environmental and public health rules — all without going through the normal parliamentary process.”

Further reading
Trans Pacific Partnership campaign web-page

Photo: The Council of Canadians protests against the Trans Pacific Partnership during a round of talks in Ottawa, July 2014.