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Trade Justice Network meets with EU trade committee in Ottawa

On November 1, the Trade Justice Network met with members of the European international trade committee who are in Ottawa and Toronto for meetings related to the Canada-EU free trade negotiations. The EU officials arrived in Ottawa on the heels of a ninth round of Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement negotiations. The Members of the European Parliament were here to meet with business, government and civil society groups with an interest in the negotiations.

TJN representatives at Tuesday’s meeting with trade committee MEPs included: Régine Laurent, president of the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ); Steven Shrybman, international trade lawyer, Sack, Goldblatt, Mitchell LLP; Carol Ferguson, senior officer, Canadian Union of Public Employees; me, trade campaigner, Council of Canadians; Larry Brown, national secretary-treasurer, National Union of Public and General Employees; Theresa McLenaghan, executive director, Canadian Environmental Law Association; Richard Elliott, executive director, Canadian HIV/AIDS Lega Network; Clayton Thomas-Muller, Indigenous Environmental Network, and; Garry Neil, representing the Canadian Conference of the Arts.

Clayton started us off with IEN concerns about the effect that investment protections and an investor-state dispute process in CETA would have on tar sands regulation. He described the problems First Nations have with the federal and many provincial governments with respect to lack of consultation on projects affecting their treaty rights. And he explained the concerns IEN has that the proposed procurement chapter in CETA would outlaw set-asides for First Nations companies which are crucial in particular for northern peoples.

Garry said the arts community in Canada is confused why the EU would not be in favour of the broadest possible cultural exemption in CETA since both trading partners are signatories of the UNESCO charter on cultural diversity. Instead, EU negotiators have been pushing Canada to remove foreign ownership caps on telecommunications, publishing and other sectors, and to otherwise undermine Canadian cultural content laws through the negotiations. Garry explained that Canadian artists appreciate some of the EU’s copyright positions and feel that the Conservative copyright legislation does not go far enough to protect the rights of artists.

Steven described CETA as the latest iteration of formerly U.S. proposals to include investment, intellectual property rights, services and other areas of public policy which hadn’t, prior to the late 1980s, been part of the trade liberalization agenda. He focused on the Canadian and European Commission desire to include an investor-state dispute process in CETA, saying that bilateral and regional investment treaties put the rights of commercial entities over the rights of governments to enact public policy. Canada uses this regime to frustrate other countries’ objectives, whether they are human, social or environmental rights, he said. Steven said it is not unfair to compare liberalization of trade and investment to financial liberalization, which has led to crises. He warned the ecological and social crises that result from deregulation in other policy areas under this trade regime will make the financial crisis pale in comparison.

Theresa handed out copies of CELA’s latest report on the effect the proposed Canada-EU trade deal would have on environmental policy in both regions. She asked MEPs whether labelling standards could be considered technical barriers to trade under CETA. There’s a precedent for this in Australia where cigarette labels not unlike the ones in Canada designed to discourage smoking have been challenged at the WTO and by investors under the Hong Kong-Australia bilateral investment treaty. Theresa also asked whether provincial subsidies for green power, for example the Green Energy Act, could survive under CETA and whether eliminating this freedom to CETA didn’t undermine the sustainable development goals of the EU. She also suggested that the precautionary principle must be protected in trade agreements such as CETA, not undermined.

Carol warned MEPs about the risks of the negative list approach to committing service sectors in trade agreements, which the EU has had only six months to grapple with before having to exchange services and investment offers with Canada. She explained how difficult it is to predict what future social services might need to be protected from competition in order to full exclude those areas a country or province does not want to bind by CETA’s rules. She talked about the lack of information we have on what’s been put on the table, and how over 20 municipalities in Canada have now passed resolutions demanding they be exempt from the procurement chapter in CETA.

Larry pointed out the elephant in the room — the 2008 financial crash which proved that liberalization might be part of the problem, not the solution, to the “fragile” recovery. He told MEPs that in Canada’s experience, free trade agreements are job killers. NAFTA cost us 360,000 good jobs, and 750,000 in the U.S. Mexico didn’t pick those up under NAFTA, Larry explained. In fact, Mexican wages went down after the agreement was signed. Trade deals are anti-democratic — more like corporate constitutions built by and for large corporations, he said.

Richard focused on intellectual property rules proposed by the EU in CETA as they relate to pharmaceutical products. He called these EU requests fundamentally contrary to the public interest. Canada’s already “moribund” access to medicines regime for exporting cheap drugs to developing countries can only be compromised even further by patent term extensions and new data protection terms for EU-based pharmaceutical giants. These trade agreements chip away at flexibilities built into the WTO to ensure that medicines, notably for AIDS and HIV, make it to where they are needed as cheaply as possible. If Canada succumbs to the EU’s demands on drugs it will set a new threshold for the EU’s other free trade deals with EU and Latin America. Richard mentioned border measures already enforced in the EU where totally legitimate shipments of drugs from India to Africa are being intercepted for perceived infringement of patents. Where is the competition in these new monopolist rights for Big Pharma, he asked MEPs.

Regine concluded our delegation by talking about the potential impacts on health care from CETA’s procurement and services chapters. She was especially concerned with subcontracting by EU firms who pick up contracts in the health sector because of the problems Quebec has experienced with such practices. Regine was also concerned that procurement rules forcing municipalities and provincial agencies to go with the lowest bidder on service contracts would rule out support for local and small businesses.

Following these presentations, Vital Moreira, chair of the EU international trade committee, said a few words before inviting questions from the other political groups present. He explained that Canada came to the EU for these CETA talks and that the goal is “reciprocity” in market access. He saw market access in terms of population size — 500 million in the EU vs 30 million in Canada — concluding that Canada naturally got the better deal out of CETA. This is of course not accurate. In fact Canada’s trade deficit with the EU is predicted to grow under CETA by the EU government’s own assessment of the proposed agreement.

David Martin, who sits with Mr. Moreira as a Socialist and Democrat in the European parliament, said a good trade deal is worth it but that he shares many of the position of the Trade Justice Network with respect to CETA. He would like to see culture, education, public health excluded, and mentioned the European parliament resolution from June which calls for as much. Helmut Scholz, a German MEP from the United Left (GUE) group, also said he shared many of the concerns we raised.

The EU trade committee members had a full schedule this week. Before and after our meeting with them, they were scheduled to talk to several business lobbies, the Alberta government, and Canadian trade negotiators. As we were leaving, a large group from Rx&D — the brand name pharma lobby — were walking in. MEPs also met with the generics industry in Canada.

There will probably be a report coming out of the MEPs visit to Canada, which we’ll share with you as soon as we see it.