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Ontario says trade rules limit how they can address Nestle water-takings

Ontario environment minister Glen Murray, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow

Ontario environment minister Glen Murray says trade disciplines limit what the Ontario government can do with respect to Nestle water-takings. And he says he will be looking for advice from Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow on how to protect water given international trade rules.

In a CBC Radio interview yesterday afternoon, Murray said, “One of the things that shocked me in the last several months since the premier directed me and my ministry to take this challenge on was exactly how much international trade rules, NAFTA and WTO rules, apply to this. So there are real restrictions. Some of them I have to say are somewhat concerning over what a province and what a national government can do on water. …We’re going to be looking very very closely in more depth to make sure we’re not exposed to legal risks or trade challenges.”

During the interview, the minister was read a quote by Barlow that says, “The Ontario government must implement a full moratorium on bottled water takings by phasing out water-taking permits for single-use containers, including Nestlé’s Aberfoyle permit. More than tentative first steps are needed to truly protect water for communities. We must work towards a bottled water-free future.”

Murray responds, “I think that those are the kind of views we want to hear more about in the coming weeks. I have to give Maude Barlow real credit. She has been one of the people who long before anyone else even talked about it raised the issue of trade WTO NAFTA restrictions on the ability of government to protect water supplies. I have to give her some credit. We will be looking for advice from people who have been thinking about this for a long time, because we have run into some restrictions on what we can do. Part of the reason to have the two-year moratorium is to give us the runway to hear from people like Maude and others on what their best advice is on how we manage the international regulatory dimensions on protecting water today.”

CBC then asks, “Barlow has already made the point, so why can’t you move to a bottled water future?”

Murray says, “There are a whole bunch of issues. Whether you use a tax or regulatory fee and how you construct it is the degree to which it is bullet-proof from trade actions and from other measures. One of the things we’ll be looking at quite closely is which of those pricing systems is most bullet-proof to trade or to legal action.”

The Ontario government has now opened a 45 day period for public comment which closes on December 1. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says the province’s review of bottled water takings will be completed this fall. For more information on that public consultation period, please click here.

In the meantime, we have launched a Boycott Nestle campaign that asks people not to buy bottled water. At this point, 38,710 people have now signed the pledge since it was launched at an evening public forum on September 22 in Guelph. To add your name to that pledge, click here.

The full CBC Radio interview with Ontario environment minister can be heard here.