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Quebec network leaks new CETA documents; IREC report notes imbalances in Canadian and European services offers

Last week, the Quebec Network on Continental Integration (RQIC) went public with even more documents related to the Canada-EU free trade negotiations. You’ll remember the same group leaked Canada’s initial (October 2011) services and investment offer to the EU this past January in partnership with the Trade Justice Network. The Council of Canadians and Canadian Union of Public Employees commented on the absence of any protections for drinking water services in those offers and what that means for Canadian municipalities.

Now the RQIC network has released the EU equivalent of those offers while a Quebec think tank — L’Institut de recherche en economie contemporaine (IREQ) — comments on how surprisingly different they are in the extent to which they try to protect public services like health, education and water delivery.

The latest leaked documents list those sectors or policies that the EU and its members states would like to see excluded from CETA rules on investment which will limit government policy in those areas. There are 144 pages worth of reservations for existing measures and another 98 pages seeking protection for EU member states to introduce new legislative measures in the future. Taken in consideration with claims by the Charest government on CETA’s benefits, IREC questions whether it will be such a good deal for the province.

“It is false to claim that Quebec firms will gain new access to a market of 500 million consumers since the EU market is already largely open,” says the think tank (translation mine). “It seems products facing high tariffs will stay that way while the general level of low tariffs will be lowered only slightly. It’s difficult to see how our firms could see any profit from the opening of public contracts in Europe, which is already 84 per cent open. On the other hand, it’s probable that that our firms will lose precious contracts at home if we succumb to EU demands. The sections on labour mobility could be promising but we’ll have to wait for a final agreement to know for sure. Finally, in the area of foreign direct investment, we must remember that these kinds of agreements have only marginal impacts on attracting new capital.”

Le Devoir ran an article on the IREC report and the release of the new documents (subscription only). It quotes IREC author Alexandre L. Maltais as saying it’s not enough for the Quebec government to call CETA a “next generation” trade deal and leave it at that. The province must provide a rigorous, objective and open assessment of the advantages and drawbacks of CETA.

RQIC member organizations had more combative words for the Charest government.

Louise Chabot, first vice-president of the CSQ, said that just as Quebec students are standing up against the commercialization of education, these new CETA documents show that European governments want to protect their public education while Quebec remains largely silent on the issue. Chabot calls on Quebec’s lead CETA negotiator, Pierre Marc Johnson, to prove that education and public services are absolutely not covered by the agreement.

“Montreal has adopted a resolution demanding that measures be taken by our governments to limit the impact of this agreement on the liberalization of public contracts. The City of Toronto has even called to be excluded from this kind of agreement. It’s a position that governments cannot continue to ignore and as long as public contracts are not expressly excluded from the CETA, the Canadian Union of Public Employees will fight against its ratification,” said Denis Bolduc, secretary general of CUPE-Quebec in the same RQIC press release (translation mine).

An English report on the Canadian and European offers will be available soon.