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Senate passes Peru FTA; Council of Canadians protests Petrolifera in Alberta

International Trade Minister Stockwell Day and his team of DFAIT free traders got a mostly free ride last week when they approached the Senate foreign affairs and trade committee debating Bill C-24, implementing legislation for the Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement. The Senate passed the agreement in the end but not before some pointed criticism by one Conservative senator of the recent police crackdown of Indigenous protesters in Peru, and the ability of free trade agreements to protect the environment or human rights.

VIDEO: The Council of Canadians, Rainforest Action Network and others protested outside Petrolifera headquarters in Calgary last Friday (see video above) in solidarity with Indigenous groups opposed to the free trade agreements with Canada and the United States.

Day had just wrapped up his rosy pitch for Bill C-24 when Conservative Senator Suzanne Fortin-Duplessis mentioned the Indigenous protests against Amazonian development and asked whether the gains from environmental and labour side agreements with Peru would be lost through the FTA’s chapter 8 on investment, which mimics NAFTA’s contested chapter 11 investor-state dispute process.

Day responded that he regrets what happened in Peru but that it was something the people of Peru had to figure out for themselves, at which point Fortin-Duplessis wondered if it would harm the FTA. Day said that the FTA had nothing to do with the violence, which simply happens from time to time all over the world. Then he claimed falsly that the environmental side agreements are as binding and tough as the investor protections in the agreement.

Over 500 letters sent to Senate

The Council of Canadians, MiningWatch Canada and Common Frontiers had sent all senators a letter imploring them to do what they could to stall or reject the FTA in light of the police violence earlier this month against Indigenous groups protesting government plans for expanding development projects in the rain forest. This was on top of over 500 letters from Canadians who used our action alert to target senators and party leaders to stop the deal.

Unfortunately, after Fortin-Duplessis’ comments, the Senate discussion took a sharp turn — from whether we should be signing an investor rights agreement with Peru to why Canada wasn’t able to squeeze more concessions out of Peruvian negotiators to match what the Americans got.

Conservative Senator Hugh Segal lobbed a softball at Minister Day about whether the Peru FTA will improve the flow of labour, capital and goods across borders. He then asked whether the minister saw “any linkage constructively between this free trade agreement with Peru and our development activities in Peru in terms of investment on the development side, or do you see the two as quite separate and not connected?”

“Yes!” was Day’s enthusiastic response, and for good reason. Canada’s main development interests in Peru are mining and resource extraction. The Peruvian government passed several decrees (some of them repealed over the past week due to massive national and international support for Indeginous protests, which prompted the prime minister to resign) to open up the Amazon for business to sweeten the FTAs with the United States and Canada.

Then in a bout of Kubric-like poetry, Day said:

History shows, senator, that when you engage in trade and you do that in an elevated way and open up doors to trade, you are not just opening the doors. You are openings the eyes of everyone on both sides.

Trippy.

Senate to the rescue of Canadian pork

Liberal Senator Percy Downe started what would become the predominant tract by asking why Canada didn’t get as good a deal on pork exports as the United States did in its FTA with Peru. Day explained the sensitivities around pork imports to Peru and tried to convince the senator to see the glass as half full, not half empty:

I could tell you that we sometimes win with different countries that we are negotiating with right now when we say, “Anything the U.S. gets, we get.” There have been times when the U.S. has said, “Anything Canada gets, we want.” They may not get it. Therefore, you put the cards on the table; you look at the areas that matter most to you and the best interests of your country, workers and producers, and sometimes can you get a clause that says, “Whatever the U.S. gets. . . .” Sometimes you cannot. It happens to them, also.

Liberal Senator Dennis Dawson kept the pork dialogue going and was also worried about why the American producers got a better deal out of Peruvian negotiators than we did.

(As an aside, and with some sympathy for elected officials from pork producing ridings who may feel obliged to defend the industry, I just have to say again that exporting meat thousands of kilometres to countries that raise animals locally is completely stupid, wasteful and, where pork is concerned, environmentally destructive. The fact that unelected senators will go to bat for Canada’s factory pork farmers while ignoring the human rights record of the Peruvian government is incredibly disturbing.)

To borrow a phrase, It’s the Crude, Dude

The probable answer to Senate concerns about parity with the Americans came from Carol Nelder-Corvari, director of international trade policy at DFAIT and chief negotiator of the Peru and Colombia FTAs, who explained the origins of the Canada-Peru agreement.

These discussions were initiated by Canada in recognition of the fact that we had ongoing cooperative efforts underway in Peru at the time. We initiated these because we wanted to deepen cooperation and promotion in this area. Mining in Peru is a large area for investment from Canada. We have over $2.3 billion in investment there, which compares to about $800 million in India… We have several exploratory oil and gas operations as well as ongoing operations. Key ones are Barrick, Teck Cominco and Talisman.

Left off the list is Petrolifera Petroleum, an Alberta firm that was this year granted permission by the Peruvian government to explore on territory occupied by the uncontacted Cacataibo tribe. Petrolifera is 24 per cent owned by tar sands company Conacher Oil and Gas, also of Calgary, whose motto (without irony it seems) is “Keeping our ducks in a row” (see the ducks here).

The Council of Canadians, Rainforest Action Network and others protested outside Conacher/Petrolifera headquarters in Calgary last Friday (see video above).

Senate more concerned with Canada’s bargaining power

Senator Downe claimed that the reputation of these companies is at stake over problems that happened years ago, and that the biggest outrage is not how governments repress people for the development interests of Canadian megafirms but on how tough we can expect Canada to be when negotiating a Canada-EU agreement.

It was an interesting note to end on. Clearly Canada’s resource and mining companies, as well as mass agriculture, will gain considerably more from the Peru FTA than the Peruvian people or even Peruvian companies. But in negotiations with Europe, Canada is in Peru’s position with the European economy considerably larger than ours and their negotiators much tougher.

“If this is the best deal we could get with a developing country, then there is a tremendous concern about what we will be able to negotiate with the EU,” said Senator Downe.