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NEWS: Will Harper’s support for asbestos derail CETA talks?

Meeting with MEP Stephen Hughes, July 2010

Meeting with MEP Stephen Hughes, July 2010

Will Stephen Harper’s commitment to Canada’s deadly asbestos industry derail his ‘full throttle’ forward hopes for the Canada-European Union trade talks? Will the EU challenge Canada at the World Trade Organization for subsidies to asbestos mines?

The National Post reports, “Conservative leader Stephen Harper has declared that Canada will not ban the export of asbestos – despite calls from health groups – because to do so would hurt Canadian industry. …He flatly said his government will not ban the sale of the product, which he preferred to call ‘chrysotile’ instead of asbestos. …He appeared with the Conservative candidate in the riding of Richmond-Arthabaska, which is held by the Bloc Quebecois. It is also adjacent to a riding held by Conservative cabinet minister Christian Paradis, whose riding includes the town of Thetford Mines, which has the last asbestos mine in Canada.”

“The use of asbestos is highly regulated in Canada because it is considered a hazardous product. The federal government allows it to be exported, arguing that it is not dangerous if handled properly. But critics say this is a hypocritical approach because once the product has left Canada, there is nothing that can be done about how companies elsewhere – often in the Third World – require their workers to use it. … Canada has one remaining active asbestos mine in Quebec, and 90 per cent of the asbestos produced there is exported, mainly to developing countries, where it’s generally used as an additive to make cement building products more durable.”

“For years, Canada and Quebec have been under pressure from scientists and health groups such as the Canadian Cancer Society to stop exporting asbestos because of how its toxic elements are linked to cancer.  In (a statement released this morning), Dr. Kapil Khatter, of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, called on Harper to ‘put people’s lives ahead of politics.’ ‘Canada is becoming known as an immoral asbestos pusher and as an enemy of global public health,’ said Kathleen Ruff, senior human rights adviser to the Rideau Institute.”

In 1999, Canada challenged France’s import ban on asbestos and asbestos-containing products at the World Trade Organization. The WTO panel and its appellate body eventually rejected Canada’s challenge. The WTO website states, “The European Communities justified its prohibition on the ground of human health protection…”

In June 2010, a Public Citizen media release noted that, “European parliamentarian Stephen Hughes (United Kingdom) recently tabled an inquiry calling for a WTO challenge of a proposed Canadian subsidy. The European Union has banned all use of asbestos and extraction, manufacture and processing of asbestos products in 2005.” In July 2010, the Council of Canadians met with Mr. Hughes in Brussels and he suggested an export ban on asbestos could be made a condition for completion of the ongoing CETA talks.

Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division, says, “The Canadian government endlessly chastises other countries’ purported trade distortions but apparently the Harper administration’s fealty to free trade does not apply to Canada creating a massive new subsidy that would boost exports of a deadly substance, asbestos.”

In mid-April 2011, the Quebec government agreed in principle to guarantee a $58-million loan required to reopen the Jeffrey asbestos mine.