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Municipal trade-off in “end game” of Canada-EU negotiations is unacceptable, says letter from trade justice activists

The Trade Justice Network, Council of Canadians and Canadian Union of Public Employees have sent a letter to municipal leaders across Canada warning that “urgent action is necessary” to make sure the proposed Canada-European Union free trade deal (CETA) does not undermine local governments. The letter responds to “restricted” EU documents, leaked to La Presse in November, in which the European Commission says the Canadian offer on municipal procurement is “highly satisfactory,” but that Canada is holding out on covering local transit, energy, and provincial and regional development programs until the “end game.”

“Not only has the municipal sector been largely covered by CETA’s new rules forbidding local preferences and other strategic forms of public spending, these leaked documents suggest the Harper government is ready to include even sectors like energy and transit in exchange for better access to the EU market for the beef and pork sectors,” says the joint letter, signed by Council of Canadians Chairperson Maude Barlow and CUPE National President Paul Moist. “This is in spite of the [Federation of Canadian Municipalities’] insistence that these are strategic and therefore should be excluded from prohibitions on local content requirements or ‘Buy Canadian’ policies.”

Saskatoon chapter activists inform local councillors about CETA outside the FCM annual conference last year.

From news reports this week, the “end game” in the CETA negotiations is just about now, with Canadian lead negotiators in Brussels this week, and another ministerial meeting planned for as early as February to conclude a deal. Embassy Magazine quotes (subscription only) a European Commission spokesperson this week saying, “Our negotiations on CETA are in their final stage and Commissioner De Gucht will travel to Canada when it is deemed appropriate to conclude negotiations with his Canadian counterpart.”

TAKE ACTION – Share this letter with your community

The Council of Canadians, CUPE and Trade Justice Network are urging people to share this letter with their own local councillors and mayors. If you’d prefer, you can use it for reference and write your own letters insisting that municipal governments, school boards, hospitals and other local public agencies be completely excluded from unacceptable prohibitions on strategic public spending. Even if your community is one of the more than 40 to have requested an exemption from CETA, it’s important for local decisionmakers to see this new information.

If the Harper government signs CETA as it’s now written, it will put Canadian municipalities in the absurd situation of not being able to use job-creation or local development incentives on public spending while their colleagues in the United States (and in cities around world) continue to benefit from this important but underused (in Canada) form of strategic procurement.

The Trade Justice Network letter is available in English and French. For more on the November leaks, see my blog post here. To read a recent op-ed by Barlow and  Moist on Harper’s shoddy meat-for-everything trade off at the CETA “end game,” click here.