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Trew & Lui say Canada should follow EU lead on investment rules

Council of Canadians campaigners Stuart Trew and Emma Lui write in Embassy magazine, “Due to mounting public concern, the European Commission has launched a consultation with European Union member states and the public on whether its Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the United States should include an investor-state dispute process. …The three-month consultation, which begins as early as this week and ends in June, will undoubtedly further delay the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement negotiations.”

Trew and Lui state, “The Conservative government should use this pause to also consult the Canadian people on what is probably CETA’s most controversial chapter.”

“Using NAFTA’s powerful investment protection chapter and dispute process, US investors have targeted a precautionary moratorium on shale gas extraction under the St. Lawrence Seaway, the federal government’s decision to build a new bridge between Windsor and Detroit, a research and development profit-sharing program in Newfoundland and Labrador, a ban on trade in toxic chemicals, and more. …The Conservative government claims that things will be different in CETA because they are trying to make it more difficult for companies to file so-called frivolous cases against legitimate public policies. But expert opinions of a leaked November 2013 version of the CETA investment chapters contradict this claim. In reality, says Howard Mann of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, CETA will give European and Canadian companies even more opportunities to sue for perceived violations of their fair and equitable treatment rights.”

The campaigners add, “The Council of Canadians is extremely concerned about how these additional rights will affect public services, in particular municipal water services. From our reading of the text, CETA would lock in water service privatization that the Conservative government is encouraging by forcing municipalities and First Nations to consider the Private-Public Partnership, or P3, option before receiving federal funding for water infrastructure. …If CETA is ratified as is, communities entering into a P3 for water and wastewater services would open themselves up to investor lawsuits should they later decide to cancel a contract—even if it was in the public interest to do so.”

They note, “Regina recently announced three consortia—Epcor Saskatchewan Water Partners, Prairie Water Partners, and Wascana Environmental Partners—are bidding for the city’s new P3 wastewater treatment plant. All three consortia have partners that are either based in or have offices in Europe. …If at some point Regina opted to bring its privatized wastewater services back into public hands, perhaps to contain rising costs, a consortium with ties to Europe would have solid grounds in CETA to claim a violation of their fair and equitable treatment. Fair payment to the firm for interrupting a contract is no guarantee against such a case, which is entirely up to an arbitration panel to decide. The EU agreement would create a disincentive against even considering a move back to the more affordable and accountable public model because of the costs and stress of arbitration.”

Trew and Lui conclude, “The European consultation on investment protection rules in the TTIP is a positive step, but there is a risk it will become a propaganda campaign for the EU Commission and corporate lobby groups. Holding parallel consultations in Canada with maximum public input could help avoid that situation. Actually, it’s the very least we should be asking from the Conservative government. And since the Commission will be publishing the CETA investment chapters anyway as part of the European consultation, there is no good excuse why they cannot be published here as part of a national public discussion.”