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NEWS: Barlow to speak on CETA in Guelph, Jan. 26

The Guelph Mercury reports that:

She was a thorn in Brian Mulroney’s side during negotiations for the first modern free trade deal, the U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement, and helped turn the tide against the Free Trade Area of the Americas and the Security and Prosperity Partnership.

Now, activist icon Maude Barlow is taking aim at the Canada-E.U. Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which she last week called “a bid for unprecedented and uncontrolled European access to Canadian resources.”

Barlow will be back in Guelph Jan. 26 to deliver a speech at the University of Guelph on CETA and global water politics.

“I’m not opposed to trade, and I’m not opposed to trade agreements, if they’re fair and based on real respect for the environment and local communities,” Barlow said Wednesday from her home in Ottawa.

“Trade and the economy are the gods of our time,” she added. “The economy and trade should be serving our communities.”

Canadian and European Union officials have already held five rounds of private talks on CETA, but most Canadians haven’t even heard of it, she said.

“I believe that governments now keep this under the radar screen. They don’t want it in the papers. They don’t want people to know about it.”

Negotiations have been held in secret, leaving people to guess at what the deal could contain, she said.

Supporters say Canada would benefit most from the deal, pointing to a joint Canada-E.U. study forecasting a $12-billion annual boost to the Canadian economy.

Critics argue CETA will hurt Canadian agriculture, extractive and manufacturing interests, deplete and damage the country’s natural resources and accelerate the rate of development of the Alberta oilsands.

Companies currently sheltered by tariffs, including those in the dairy industry, will likely oppose the deal, as will Canadian producers of foods named after European locales (think bologna, champagne), which might have to rebrand to satisfy a Geographic Indicators provision.

But the most contentious issue appears to be subnational procurement — the opening up of municipal and provincial government contracts to European competition.

Under the deal, cities and towns would no longer be able to restrict tendering to local companies or stipulate that foreign companies bidding on public contracts give preference to local goods, services or workers, Canadian trade lawyer Steve Shrybman wrote in a May 2010 report.

The threat posed to municipal water was most distressing of all to Barlow, a former adviser on water to the president of the United Nations General Assembly who has spoken in Guelph about water as a human right.

“We want our provincial and municipal governments to tell the federal government to back off our public water supply,” Barlow said.

Not surprisingly, Europe’s biggest water companies, Veolia and Suez, are lobbying hard in support of CETA, which, according to Barlow, would give them a foot in the door to Canada’s vast and valuable water reserves.

Guelph MP Frank Valeriote echoed Barlow’s concerns. “There will be wars fought over water in the not too distant future,” he said. “What if they start challenging our ability to control our own resources?

“Trade is important, free trade is important, but at what cost?” Valeriote added. “You’re always negotiating something away in order to gain access to someone else’s market. We have to be critical in our assessment of what it is we’re giving away.”

He said Europe, with the biggest single market in the world, was being very aggressive. “The first thing they put on the table, I’m told, was subnational procurements,” he said.

In the spring, Barlow will embark on a cross-country tour to galvanize opposition to CETA.

Said the veteran activist: “It’s my experience that when people find out what’s in these agreements, they get upset.”