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NEWS: Leaked CETA text shows water services not protected

It is being widely reported that the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) will be signed by June at a Canada-EU summit in Canada.

Yesterday, Postmedia’s Lee Berthiaume reported, “Leaked documents show Canadian negotiators trying to exclude telecommunications and some agricultural sectors from a free-trade deal with the European Union, but not water. This absence has critics up in arms over the potential privatization of municipal water supplies — as has become common across the Atlantic. …The fact water wasn’t included, however, means it won’t be protected. ‘If it’s not mentioned, it’s free,’ (Dan Ciuriak, a former economist at the Department of International Trade) said. ‘It can be liberalized.’ …Stuart Trew, trade campaigner for the Council of Canadians, said by not including water in the documents, it ties municipalities’ hands for the future. ‘A very simple (mention in the list) would have at least safeguarded municipalities in the future should existing privatizations or future public-private partnerships go awry,’ he said. ‘Even those stop gaps are not included.'”

The Canadian Press report by Julian Beltrame adds, “The documents released Wednesday by RQIC, a network of Quebec civil society groups and unions, are the first public glimpse of the list of exemptions Ottawa and the provinces have proposed for protection under any new deal. They represent the starting position submitted to the EU in October, however, and some may be dropped in future sessions. …The province of Ontario is seeking to exclude procurement for renewable energy projects, and Quebec wants a set-aside for cultural industries. The leaked lists cover only services and investment. Canadian negotiators presented their exemption lists for the sensitive area of government procurement in July, but they remain secret. …It is not known what is on the EU exclusion list.”

Notably though, “A spokesman for RQIC said the group is still analysing more than 200 pages of exempted items, but the lack of a set-aside for municipal water systems sticks out like a sore thumb. This opens open up any public procurement on water, any public contract will need to be opened up to multinationals,’ said Pierre-Yves Serinet of RQIC. ‘Water is under municipal (control) but we know infrastructure is very old and needs big investments in the near future, so the control of drinking water and also waste water is a big concern.’ The Council of Canadians and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, in a release to be issued Thursday, argue the deal would mark the first time Canada has allowed drinking water to become part of a trade agreement. And it could open up municipalities to lawsuits from European water operators. ‘If CETA were signed today … municipalities who choose a public-private partnership for a water or wastewater facility become vulnerable to corporate lawsuits demanding compensation for lost profits under the investor-state dispute mechanism,’ the release states.”

“Overall, the leaked documents show Canada and the provinces are putting most things on the table, Council trade expert Stuart Trew said in an interview. ‘It looks like a long list (of exemptions), but it’s not that long. It’s the most ambitious offer that Canada has ever made in a trade agreement,’ he explained. ‘On its own, it would go beyond what we’ve offered other countries.’ He added that exemptions proposed by the provinces, with the exception of Ontario and Quebec, are a short list.”

“A spokesman for Fast said the minister would not comment on the leaked documents, but added he would ‘strongly caution’ against taking the list at face value. ‘Negotiations are ongoing and we will only sign an agreement in the best interests of all Canadians,’ Adam Taylor said in an email response.”

Yesterday, Macleans columnist Paul Wells wrote, “A group called the Quebec Network on Continental Integration has posted the latest documents from the negotiations toward a Comprehensive Enhanced Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union. This led to a Presse Canadienne story tonight (in French) pointing out what was already pretty obvious, but still intriguing: that if a deal goes ahead, it will require provincial governments and municipalities, which are provincial creatures, to open bidding for government contracts to European firms. So if you’re the Corporation of the Town of Hypothetical and you want to but out a contract for stationery supplies, or rapid transit, or whatever, you must permit European firms to compete on an equal footing with local contractors of long standing.”

Wells notes, “Which is how a 19-foot Trojan Horse came to be parked outside Toronto City Hall on Monday, courtesy of Ward 38 Councillor Glenn de Baermaeker, apparently an aficionado of props. De Baermaeker’s resolution, which would propose that Toronto be exempted from the contracting and services provisions of CETA, apparently hasn’t got very far. It’s a different story in other municipalities. The Council of Canadians, a prime mover (surprise!) behind the anti-CETA campaign in municipalities, has a map showing 20-odd municipalities that have passed or at least considered such resolutions. The list includes Lunenberg, NS, London and Windsor, ON and — this one’s gotta hurt — Brian Mulroney’s hometown of Baie-Comeau, QC.”

Wells’ column has now been updated. He writes, “My colleague, PostMedia reporter Peter O’Neil, pointed out to me that a deal will probably include thresholds below which the procurement provisions of CETA won’t kick in. This letter from trade minister Ed Fast to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities puts the likely threshold at $340,600 for goods and services, and $8.5 million for construction. …It’s a loophole so big that Lunenberg, which has passed a Council of Canadians resolution rejecting CETA, could still have paid $6.8 million to Mid Valley Construction, up the road in Kingston, NS, for a new water-treatment plant, without ever paying Spanish or Czech construction companies the courtesy of a howdy-do. Those of us who think more trade with Europe is a good idea look at details like an $8.5 million exemption and want to cry. (Fun exercise: how do you award $25 million worth of business to the local firm? That’s right! You split it into three contracts, each under $8.5 million.)”

In terms of the Toronto resolution, InsideToronto.com reports, “The matter came before the executive committee Tuesday, Jan. 24, and was deferred until the February meeting.”

For more:
Stuart Trew’s blog on the leaked text and the threat to water services
Trew’s blog on the Toronto motion
Our joint media release with CUPE this morning on the leaked CETA documents
The December 2010 Council-CUPE report on CETA and water privatization