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Harper’s European agenda questioned during trade justice tour

It’s the end of a busy week for the new Trade Justice Network, which has come together to fight the Canada-EU free trade negotiations. On Monday, the network, represented at a press conference by the Canadian Conference of the Arts, Sierra Club Canada, National Farmers Union, Canadian Autoworkers Union, Council of Canadians and Canadian Postal Workers Union, released a draft copy of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement — an FTA with corporate perks the EU and Canada could not negotiate globally at the WTO because of opposition from developing and some developed countries. Investment (investor-rights and a Chapter 11 clause), government procurement, competition law, TRIPs-plus intellectual property reforms, expanded protection for service companies… it’s all in there in great measure, and very little of it has to do with trade as most would understand it.

To draw attention to the scope of this thin, the network had invited three European speakers to Canada for events in Ottawa, Montreal (organized by Attac Quebec and the Reseau pour le commerce juste) and Toronto. We had Rolv Hanssen of Public Services International and Frederic Viale of Attac France appear by Skype in the last two events, and Terry Boehm, president of the National Farmers Union, gave a great speech about Intellectual Property and farmers, on Monday night — the network has been getting many emails since Monday from people concerned about the deal’s effect on food policy.

“We now have in-hand a proposed agreement that would reshape Canadian agriculture: reducing farm support program spending; radically rewriting the laws that govern farmers’ seed saving and re-use; and probably in the future, opening another front in the attacks against the Canadian Wheat Board and supply management,” said Boehm in a press statement. If you’d like to read more about how CETA affects food policy, telecommunications, culture or public services, there are fact sheets up at www.tradejustice.ca.

On Tuesday afternoon, Alain Pineau, executive director of the Canadian Conference of the Arts, Denise Gagnon, an international solidarity rep at the Federation des travailleurs et travailleuses de Quebec, and myself met with Gilles Duceppe and the Bloc’s trade, labour, cultural and ag ministers on Parliamemt Hill. We were supposed to have Gerard Choplin of Via Campesina Europe with us — our third European guest — but of course the flights are only now just resuming. It was a very productive meeting and we’re hoping to keep the dialogue going with opposition parties, particularly the Bloc and NDP, who have shown great strength opposing the unjustifiable Colombia free trade agreement.

Finally on Wednesday night I spoke alongside Peggy Nash, a senior negotiator with the Canadian Autoworkers union, in Toronto about the importance of putting pressure on our provincial and municipal leaders regarding CETA. In the short term, we need to get the leaked text (at www.tradejustice.ca) to as many councillors and provincial politicians as possible and ask them some of the tough questions the audiences were asking all week during this mini-trade justice tour. For example, why are you bargaining away local, provincial and federal rights to regulate the economy and corporate activity for insecure and unlikely new access to the European market? If the strategy sounds depressingly familiar it was the Harper government’s roll-over-play-dead approach in signing a the one-sided Canada-US Government Procurement Agreement. The Conservatives are reckless economic planners with no trade vision for Canada. They must be stopped.

The Council of Canadians has made challenging the European negotiations a priority this year and will be working with chapters to make sure we have the best information possible despite government secrecy. Thanks to those of you I saw out this week in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto — we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us but the wind’s at our back on this one!