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Transatlantic corporate rights talks begin (in Washington) and continue (in Ottawa) this week

Today in Washington, to the delight of European and U.S. big business lobbies, the Obama administration and European Commission will take their first formal steps toward creating a more open, deregulated and pro-corporate transatlantic free trade zone. And on Tuesday, European negotiators will visit Ottawa for a few days to try and unblock the four-year-old Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) negotiations. Leaks this week show again how much Harper is willing to trade away for small or illusory gains in a few sectors such as automotive products and meat.


Like CETA, the possibly more complicated (and probably more attractive to Europe) Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is only superficially about trade. As EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht puts it, these deals are about “streamlining our economies where it makes sense to do so by making it easier and faster for our companies to do business together.”

To that end, the TTIP, like the proposed Canada-EU deal, will include strongly worded and enforceable chapters on investment protection, food and health regulations, market access, procurement, state-owned enterprises, etc, but cosmetic filler on environmental protection, labour rights, and the “right to regulate.” Reading the tea leaves, U.S. and European social justice and environmental groups have registered their concerns and will line-up against the deal once it becomes obvious their concerns have been ignored.

The U.S. and EU are making some effort to be transparent in the early stages, for example through stakeholder presentations this week in Washington. But if the CETA process is any example, neither government will be interested in hearing information that contradicts their pre-determined and single-minded objective of protecting corporations from democratic interventions in the economy to redistribute wealth more evenly or to protect the environment (i.e. to protect profits from people).


The chief concern in Canada (among media and business commentators) is whether the TTIP negotiations will eclipse CETA. The Commission and its BUSINESSEUROPE colleagues have always seen a Canadian deal as a stepping stone to a NAFTA-EU free trade zone. The issues (and the regulations in most cases) are the same in Canada as the United States. If the Canada-EU talks collapse, they would have been good practice for Europe.

We should be far more worried about what Prime Minister Harper might do to make sure the EU stays at the table.

The Canadian Press reports today on more leaked documents from Germany on the CETA negotiations suggesting Canada has once again sweetened the deal for European multinationals, likely in an effort to try and get a better deal for Canadian beef exporters, or perhaps to avoid making perfectly avoidable (if you have a spine) changes to pharmaceutical policy that will increase the price of drugs in Canada.

Foreign ownership caps on uranium mining would be lifted – a position supported by the Wall government in Saskatchewan but not the German government, and many other EU member states, because of how controversial the nuclear trade is in Europe. And CETA would “lock in the recent relaxation of restrictions in the telecommunications industry governing foreign ownership, meaning Ottawa could not change its mind in the future,” according to CP.

“As well, the document goes into detail about market liberalization in government procurement, a controversial chapter in Canada. As previously reported, Europe believes it has freed up access to bid on about 70 per cent of contracts in the hydro-electric sector,” says today’s article. “But the German notes complain that local public transport remains outside the deal at the moment, as does Ontario’s green energy plan, and provincial regional development in the case of Canada’s smaller provinces and territories.”

Several weeks ago we found out Harper’s former chief of staff Nigel Wright was putting pressure on the provinces to give the EU more of what it was asking for. These documents suggest the provinces have obliged in most respects and are hanging on by their nails to the right to put local content preferences on transit spending.

This is something cities do around the world to make sure there are spin-off benefits to large public infrastructure spending. No U.S. city, for example, would sacrifice their spending prerogatives in that way in the TTIP but it’s likely the Harper government continues to bully the provinces and municipalities to criminalize “buy local” transit plans in CETA. In this debate, though municipalities continue to voice opposition to CETA’s procurement restrictions, the beef export lobby has been the squeakier wheel.

Blind faith in the “free market” model that trade deals ruthlessly enforce can be corrected. Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz writes this week that when trade deals like the TTIP and CETA are determined by corporations that’s who they will serve.

“If negotiators created a genuine free-trade regime that put the public interest first, with the views of ordinary citizens given at least as much weight as those of corporate lobbyists, I might be optimistic that what would emerge would strengthen the economy and improve social well-being,” he says. “The reality, however, is that we have a managed trade regime that puts corporate interests first, and a process of negotiations that is undemocratic and non-transparent.”

Stiglitz concludes: “The likelihood that what emerges from the coming talks will serve ordinary Americans’ interests is low; the outlook for ordinary citizens in other countries is even bleaker.”


Notwithstanding delays, Harper could announce at any moment that he has concluded a deal in principle with the European Union. CETA would then go to translation into about 25 languages before it could be formally signed, which is probably about a year away from now. In between those two points, the people should have a chance to see and make changes to the deal to make sure it is in everyone’s interest, and not just the interests of multinational corporations.

You can send a message to the Prime Minister and opposition parties saying as much using our action alert here: Hey Harper, What’s the Deal with Europe?