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NEWS: Council criticizes Harper’s use of CETA talks to expand tar sands

Canadian embassy official (second from the right) denies Canada linked EFQD to CETA

Canadian embassy official (second from the right) denies Canada linked EFQD to CETA

The Council of Canadians has objected to the Harper government use of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement talks to exclude the northern Alberta tar sands from a centrepiece of European climate change policy,  the European Fuel Quality Directive.

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow says, “What kind of trade deal is this if the goal is to stop the EU from adopting effective climate policy? The Harper government is clearly obsessed with expanding tar sands production at any cost and it will bully any country that tries to stand in its way. If this is Canada’s trade agenda, then we desperately need to put the Canada-EU trade talks under a microscope and make them public.”

March 25, 2010: The Council of Canadians highlights a Reuters report that, “The European Union has yielded to Canadian demands it remove possible trade barriers to polluting oil sands to avoid further damage to ties, according to sources and leaked documents. …Canadian Ambassador Ross Hornby told a top official at the European Union’s executive in a letter seen by Reuters… that draft EU standards to promote greener fuels are too unwieldy and will harm the market for its oil sands… Several sources said Canada had raised the issue frequently during trade talks with the EU. …Hornby confirmed he had written such a letter, which was released by the Commission under freedom of information laws.”

July 21: We further highlight that the Harper government had linked the European Fuel Quality Directive to CETA talks given an Inter Press Service report that, “Ross Hornby, Canada’s ambassador in Brussels, wrote to Karl Falkenberg, head of the European Commission’s environment department, in January. Hornby’s letter… objected to a proposal that fuels derived from tar sands would be treated differently to those using conventional crude oil. (The letter said that) would constitute a ‘barrier’ to trade…”

November 4: The Council of Canadians and the Indigenous Environmental Network launch a legal opinion by Steven Shrybman titled, Potential Impacts of the Proposed Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement on the Pace and Character of Oil Sands Development. Shrybman writes, “It is not a stretch to say the Canadian government sees the CETA negotiations as a tool for constraining the ability of the EU to pass regulations or other domestic measures that would differentiate between products based on their carbon content. The proposed EU Fuel Quality Directive, which would categorize crude derived from the tar sands differently than conventional oil, has already suffered from heavy Canadian and Alberta government lobbying. The Canadian government has proven its willingness to contest similar measures in the United States using international trade and investment rules. CETA also risks granting EU energy companies added investment protections and tools to challenge future Canadian or provincial efforts to regulate tar sands production more effectively.”

January 21, 2011: The Council of Canadians was in Strasbourg, France to brief Members of the European Parliament on our concerns about CETA. At a meeting twenty-one representatives of the European Parliament’s trade committee, an uninvited Canadian embassy official turned up to challenge our comments related to the tar sands and Europe’s fuel quality directive. She denied that Canada had raised this issue in relation to CETA. We easily countered her assertions (by referring to the Reuters and IPS news reports noted above) and were strongly supported by an MEP who raised objections to Canada’s role in killing the second binding phase of the Kyoto protocol at the United Nations climate negotiations this past December in Cancun.

February 21: Reuters reports that, “Canada has threatened to scrap a trade deal with the European Union if the EU persists with plans that would block imports of Canada’s highly polluting tar sands, according to EU documents and sources. …Sources said Monday (February 21) that Canada had gone further (than just raising concerns), threatening to void the free trade deal, which is expected to be agreed later this year. Canadian officials denied they have threatened to scrap the trade deal, but said they are concerned about how the oil sands oil will be treated under the EU’s fuel directive. ‘Canada and the European Union are working to resolve the issue outside of the negotiations towards a free trade deal,’ International Trade Minister Peter Van Loan said in a statement to Reuters.”

February 23: The Toronto Sun/ Reuters reports that, “Europe’s trade and climate chiefs are preparing to take a stand against imports of oil from Canada’s polluting tarsands, despite fears the move might wreck a multi-billion dollar trade deal, according to EU sources and documents. …Last year the European Union appeared to back down on the issue, putting commerce ahead of a strategy to curb greenhouse gases from transport fuels by 6 percent this decade. But EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht and climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard have spent months checking the robustness of methodology to measure the carbon footprint of fuels and are close to taking a stand on those that are the most carbon-intensive, according to internal EU documents and sources. …One EU official said that backing down on tarsands would ‘undermine the credibility’ of Hedegaard’s team and politically would be ‘a highly dangerous route for the commissioner to proceed down.’ …Canadian officials have questioned the robustness of the EU methodology. …EU sources say they expect (Canada) to mount a (WTO challenge (against them) on tarsands…”

February 24: Postmedia News reports that, “A battle over foreign environmental policies that target Alberta’s oilsands has spilled over into a meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and European Union President Jose Manuel Barroso, according to newly released EU documents. The briefing notes prepared by EU officials for the negotiations reveal Canadian officials at the highest levels were pressuring their European counterparts to turn away from stringent environmental policies in order to protect the oilsands industry. One document, prepared in the context of Harper’s meeting with Barroso at a Canada-EU summit in May 2010, noted that Natural Resources Canada officials had requested and obtained a meeting to discuss concerns about a proposed European fuel-quality directive that would restrict imports of fuel originating from Alberta because of its environmental footprint. …Van Loan was not immediately able to answer why the issue was raised during the trade negotiations.”

The news reports are at http://af.reuters.com/article/energyOilNews/idAFLDE71H14V20110221?sp=true, http://www.torontosun.com/money/2011/02/23/17376706.html and http://www.vancouversun.com/business/Canada+pressured+over+green+policy+protect+Alberta+oilsands+documents/4335179/story.html.

Our media release on this is at http://canadians.org/media/trade/2011/24-Feb-11.html.