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For Stephen Harper, trade trumps human rights

The Globe and Mail reports, “Harper’s Conservative government will make ‘economic diplomacy’ in service of private industry the centrepiece of this country’s foreign policy, marking a historic shift in Canada’s approach to the world. …’All diplomatic assets of the Government of Canada will be marshalled on behalf of the private sector’ to fulfill an ambitious agenda of opening new markets to Canadian goods and services, declares the Global Markets Action Plan, the equivalent of a foreign-policy white paper.”

“The new orientation is the result of a direct order that Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave Ed Fast when he was appointed Minister of International Trade after the 2011 election… The Prime Minister wants trade to become the dominant focus of Canada’s foreign policy, and Mr. Fast was to come up with the blueprint for making that happen. The Global Markets Action Plan is that blueprint.”

“The new strategy places a heavy emphasis on improving emerging-market access to small and medium-sized companies, known as SMEs. The goal is to increase the number of Canadian SMEs that sell into emerging markets (such as Mongolia, Uruguay, Ghana and Kazakhstan) from 11,000 to 21,000 by 2018. To reach that goal, the government will pursue new trade agreements, foreign-investment protection agreements, taxation agreements, air transportation agreements and science and technology agreements. A core mandate of Canadian diplomats and other officials will be to ‘open doors, generate leads and resolve problems’ for SMEs and other Canadian businesses, according to the action plan.”

Last November, CBC National Affairs Specialist Greg Weston wrote, “The Harper government wants to focus Canada’s international efforts primarily on one goal: forging new trade deals and business opportunities in the rapidly expanding markets of Asia and South America.” This according to “a confidential government document (that was) prepared by Foreign Affairs and dated Sept. 6 (which outlines the) new ‘Canadian foreign policy plan’ the Conservative government has been preparing for more than a year.”

According to that document:

1) On democratic principles, “To succeed we will need to pursue political relationships in tandem with economic interests even where political interests or values may not align.”

2) On immigration, “Attracting immigrants, students and temporary workers that can best contribute to economic opportunity in Canada (is the priority).”

3) On military missions and foreign aid projects, “While Canada may participate, with its allies, in international security missions for broader strategic or other reasons, security and development engagements in key countries of interest will seek to address Canada’s domestic security, economic and other priorities.”

This past January, Maude Barlow wrote, “The Harper government has shown outright contempt for binding international human rights norms. There are a growing number of international human rights treaties that the government has failed to ratify, dealing with such fundamental issues as political disappearances, torture prevention and the provision of complaint mechanisms with respect to economic, social and cultural rights and the rights of disabled children. The Harper government opposed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the General Assembly Resolution on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation, and refused to co-sponsor UN General Assembly resolutions calling for a global moratorium on executions. It also refused to recognize the applicability of child soldier obligations in Omar Khadr’s case.”

And trade campaigner Stuart Trew has commented that the Harper government has objected to human rights language in a Framework Agreement parallel to the Canada-European Union free trade agreement. He wrote, “The EU typically signs political framework agreements with all its free trade partners, and EU officials would like to sign such an agreement with Canada at the same time they sign CETA. …(The agreement) allows either party to revoke any trade and investment benefits in the event of a serious breach of human rights by the other party. Canada objects to the idea that CETA, an economic agreement, could be suspended for violations of the political framework agreement.”

Today’s news notes, “The new strategy will ‘ensure that all of the Government of Canada’s diplomatic assets are harnessed to support the pursuit of commercial success by Canadian companies and investors’, says Mr. Fast….”

Further reading
Harper prioritizes trade over human rights
Common Causes: Human rights policies eroding under Harper government