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Latest CETA round draws criticism and questions; Trade Justice Network concludes successful week in Europe

I’m fresh off the plane from Brussels after a really successful mission to Europe for the 8th round of CETA talks. The Trade Justice Network / Reseau quebecois sur l’integration continentale crew (see here for a list of members) worked overtime making new connections, meeting EU members of parliament, and generally trying to move the Canada-EU free trade talks up the priority list. We found in many cases it already had been. And so we come home with an incredible sense of momentum in the transatlantic campaign against the failed status-quo free-trade model.


Amélie Nguyen (RQIC) and Frédéric Viale (ATTAC France) at a meeting in Paris.

It was a bigger delegation than in January, and it was great to re-connect with our UK and Brussels friends working on tarsands and the Fuel Quality Directive, procurement, public services and investment. For a full report of the corporate lobbying tour, the action outside the CETA negotiations Monday morning, and the “Trading Tarsands” event in the EU Parliament on Tuesday, which I participated in with Jess Worth (UK Tarsands Network), Jasmine Thomas (Indigenous Environmental Network), Council board member Dr. John O’Connor and Scott Sinclair (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives), click here. To see John speaking outside the Canadian embassy in Brussels, click here. The Canadian Union of Public Employees sent two members to Europe last week–Blair Redlin and Carol Ferguson–who detailed our activities in daily blog entries–Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday–on the CETA section of their website.


Teresa Healy (CLC), Scott Sinclair (CCPA) and Amélie Nguyen (RQIC)  at the Public Services Intergroup meeting
Teresa Healy (CLC), Scott Sinclair (CCPA) and Amélie Nguyen (RQIC) at the Public Services Intergroup meeting

Last Thursday, I wrote about a possible delay in the CETA negotiations. Since then, the Harper government and EU Commission have issued press releases trumpeting progress. On Thursday evening, offers were exchanged on procurement and goods. The two are probably related. Canadian provinces wanted to make sure they were getting something out of the EU market before they sacrificed forever local preferences in public contracts — the EU’s top priority in Canada. Harper’s trade minister, Ed Fast, called the offers very ambitious, and we heard as much from provincial negotiators we met at the site of the CETA talks.

So what exactly did our provinces tentatively agree to give up for modest tariff reductions on some products? We don’t know. The offers are still secret. They also may get bigger before the next round.

CETA can move forward slightly after the procurement exchange but services and investment are the main sticking points in Europe. We found growing concerns in the EU that CETA will go too far in both areas, first by including services often delivered in the public sector (drinking water, health care, postal services, transit, energy, education, etc) and then by protecting privatization in these areas with strong investment guarantees. EU decision makers we met with last weed do not like the idea of a NAFTA-style investor-state dispute settlement process. It was nearly unanimous. If the EU (Council and Parliament) can’t agree on an investment policy by October, or if EU member states continue to have difficulty deciding which service sectors to protect in CETA, it will delay the negotiations even more.


Leafletting CETA negotiators outside the 8th round in Brussels.
Leafletting CETA negotiators outside the 8th round in Brussels.

There was considerable media interest in this round of CETA talks, and opposition to the negotiations made its way into most stories. I think this has a lot to do with how tight-lipped the Harper government has been about the details. Globe and Mail columnist Gary Mason captured the frustration well in his op-ed on Saturday. Mason problematizes the drug patent issue and procurement, and says a labour mobility pact may jeopardize job growth in Canada, concluding:

During the NAFTA talks, Canada had an on-going national debate about the merits of that trade deal. And yet, for a trade pact that some argue is even bigger in scale, there is a deafening silence across the land. Canadians have virtually no idea of what is being negotiated on their behalf. They should. The stakes are enormous.

Another report in the Globe acknowledged:

Critics of the FTA talks with the EU warn the proposed deal will hurt Canadian jobs and encourage the privatization of public services.

The Trade Justice Network, a coalition of groups that includes the Council of Canadians and labour organizations, say studies of the proposed Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) would result in between 28,000 and 150,000 lost jobs and increase drug costs by $2.8-billion. They warn it would also threaten buy-local purchasing policies in Canadian municipalities and utilities.

Opponents are calling on the Harper government to hold public discussions on the EU deal before proceeding.

TJN at Parliament (left to right): Charlene and Dr. John O'Connor,  Blair Redlin (CUPE), Amélie Nguyen (RQIC), Garry Neil (Council of  Canadians), Scott Sinclair (CCPA).
TJN at Parliament (left to right): Charlene and Dr. John O’Connor, Blair Redlin (CUPE), Amélie Nguyen (RQIC), Garry Neil (Council of Canadians), Scott Sinclair (CCPA).

A story in Le Devoir, quoting me and RQIC member Amélie Nguyen (RQIC), asks questions about whether Hydro Quebec will end up locked into the procurement chapter. We told Quebec’s negotiator during one meeting we were happy the province had carved out hydro and possibly transit, as Canada’s lead negotiator told groups during a post-7th round briefing. But Pierre Marc Johnson wouldn’t confirm that this was what had happened. Is hydro part of the initial Canadian offer, in which case “buy local” conditions on large energy and construction projects would be illegal? Again, we just don’t know.

Opposition to CETA showed up in other media reports. For example, Sunmedia stories across Canada said:

The federal government insists many sectors stand to gain from the deal, including aerospace, aluminum, manufacturing, forestry, and others, but critics worry the government’s obsession with free trade deals will jeopardize Canadian jobs, and lead to more privatization of public services.

Reuters and Postmedia articles picked up in many newspapers reported:

Opponents say a trade agreement would boost the exploitation of the controversial oilsands, while other critics reject the opening of sensitive sectors such as drinking water, health and defence to market competition on both sides.


Larry Brown (NUPGE) and John O'Connor.

Larry Brown (NUPGE) and John O'Connor.

Joint declarations on CETA are being prepared by international cultural networks, the trade union movement, and our social justice partners in France. The latter plan a special delegation to Brussels in the fall to express their own national concerns with CETA around environmental policy, public services and in particular the investor-state provisions.

Here at home the temperature is rising, with the provincial NDP in British Columbia and Ontario, both election contenders, raising concerns publicly. As the Mason op-ed in the Globe says, the drug patent issue is huge. A major interest of the EU, drug patent extension would be unacceptable to many provinces because it would increase health costs when premiers are finding creative ways to bring the costs down. Data exclusivity period extension, also sought by the EU in CETA, has been publicly rejected by India, which is negotiating an equally ambitious free trade deal with the EU. Only Quebec and Alberta have apparently sided with the brand name sector on these matters. Procurement is also very important. With job creation slow in Canada, the provinces would be foolish to give up the ability to support local small and medium-sized firms when spending public money, says Mason in his article.

With a ninth round of CETA talks around the corner, this time in Ottawa this October, we need to keep the pressure on our local, provincial-territorial and federal politicians. We need them to explain their detailed views on the CETA negotiations, which will affect so many areas of domestic policy not related to trade. We need to tell them that Canada’s communities are not for sale! The failings of the status-quo free-trade model are more apparent each day. After a week in Europe, it’s clear to me the momentum is on our side.