Skip to content

New free trade deals threaten the environment

The world is running out of a lot of raw resources.

From fish in the sea and old-growth forests to minerals, conventional energy and freshwater, ours is a planet needing great care.

While scientists and environmentalists warn us that we have to preserve and protect the natural world with more local, sustainable food and industrial production and more local, alternative energy sources, most of our governments are pursuing free trade agreements that promote faster and bigger transportation grids, carve up more wilderness for exploitation, increase the volume of sheer “stuff” coming from ever-farther-away places, and tear through declining energy and water supplies.

Like Obama, the Harper government is aggressively pursuing trade agreements with developing countries in the wake of failure at the WTO’s Doha Round.

Canada has shamefully beaten the U.S. to the punch with its FTA with Colombia, where coal and other mining, and plantation agriculture, continue to displace communities and wreak havoc on ecosystems, and where more union leaders are now murdered annually than anywhere else in the world.

Both Harper and Obama have their eyes set on Panama, a notorious tax haven of little real economic value to either country. But none of these deals are bigger or potentially more damaging to the Canadian environment than the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.

CETA is Canada’s version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership — Obama’s next-generation free trade deal with eight Pacific Rim nations, which will include stronger investment and more intellectual property protections than past agreements. While the U.S. president looked west, Harper turned eastward to craft a deal that goes well beyond what the WTO had dreamed of in terms of limiting the powers of publicly elected governments to protect the environment.

CETA will, for the first time, open up all levels of government procurement to corporate competition and challenge. The close to $200 billion that Canadians spend annually on provincial and municipal programs, schools, hospitals, parks, security, water delivery and public services, is all up for grabs in this deal. The big European water, food, transportation and energy transnationals are eagerly supporting CETA, as the deal with Canada is seen as a forerunner to the big prize, a U.S.-EU CETA.

But this deal is a lose-lose for all but the big corporations on all sides. The North and First Nations communities are ripe for resource exploration and exploitation as Europe seeks permanent and secure access to our raw resources such as oil, minerals, fish and forests in its growing completion with China. Greenhouse gas emissions from the tar sands will increase as Europe intensifies its investments there. Canada’s water is being used as a draw to water-intensive industry from other countries and our water services are clearly on the table, ripe for privatization and takeover by the two biggest private water utilities in the world, Suez and Veolia of France.

The Wheat Board and supply-managed dairy and poultry systems are on the table, putting family farms into even greater jeopardy. Laws that protect local economies or give preference to local food production will be seen as unfair barriers to trade and will have to go. And European corporations will now have the same rights that American corporations have under NAFTA to sue the Canadian government if any level of government tries to re-establish democratic control by protecting communities or local resources from corporate exploitation.

Massive new free trade agreements such as CETA and the thousands of existing bilateral free trade deals undermine the role and reach of elected governments. That’s why the Harper government loves them. Steven Harper is both a neo-liberal, therefore open to the freest markets possible, but also a neo-Conservative, wanting the smallest possible role for government.

For him, big trade deals like CETA are a dream. He can always blame privatization of public services and deregulation of natural resources on them. No wonder the Harper government doesn’t talk about CETA much. If Canadians find out what is in it, they would turn it down.

This post first appeared on the Huffington Post.