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NEWS: CETA and an export restriction on chromite

The ability of a country to implement an export restriction to protect their environment or to preserve an exhaustible natural resource is being challenged by the European Union.

The BNA WTO Reporter reports that, “The European Union has included a provision on raw material export restrictions in its trade agreement with Korea and will seek to include provisions in other bilateral and multilateral pacts, Seppo Nurmi, trade counselor to the European Union Delegation to the United States, said at a meeting of the Global Business Dialogue July 22. …Raw material restrictions are also an issue in ongoing bilateral trade negotiations with Ukraine, in particular in regard to the energy sector, Nurmi said.”

“Nurmi said the EU was seeking a comprehensive approach to the issue, including ensuring access to raw materials in international markets… As part of that approach, Nurmi said the European Union had established a working group which had concluded there are 14 raw materials that are particularly critical, including antimony, cobalt, gallium, graphite, and rare earths elements, among others.”

How could this relate to the ongoing Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement talks?

Presently, the Ontario government is promoting the extraction of chromite (a mineral used to make stainless steel) in the Ring of Fire in northwest Ontario, west of James Bay and northeast of Thunder Bay.

Ontario Nature has said, “The Ring of Fire threatens an environmental disaster that could be likened to a mini-tar sands. …Beyond the northern reaches of the forest lies tundra, which supports one of the earth’s largest, continuous wetlands, and through which half of Canada’s largest dozen rivers drain.”

Though chromite doesn’t appear to be currently on the initial list of 14 raw materials, a French study has identified chromite on a list of short to medium-term risks to supply, and the European Commission has already said their list could be expanded to include chromite.

Now, what if a subsequent provincial government in Ontario chose to restrict the export of chromite to protect the environment and the wetlands, but the European Union challenged that through CETA? Or what if groups such as ours lobbying the Ontario government to limit chromite mining received the response that that action would not be possible due to CETA obligations?