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Trudeau seeks free trade agreements with China and India

Trudeau, Jinping, ModiThe Globe and Mail reports, “[Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau plans to lead a high-level trade mission to China and India, likely in March after he holds bilateral meetings [on March 10] with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington. …The goal is to seek a free-trade agreement with China similar to the one Australia negotiated [which includes an investor-state dispute settlement provision]. …For years, Canada has also been pursuing a free-trade deal with India. The most recent talks were held last March. Planning for the trade mission is in its early stages, but the government has not ruled out a Team Canada mission including provincial premiers and territorial leaders and Canadian corporate executives.”

The previous Harper government had also sought free trade deals with China and India. While the free trade talks with India had reportedly stalled, the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) was ratified in September 2014 by the Harper Conservatives with the support of the Trudeau Liberals.

As a net importer of Chinese investment, especially in energy and resources, investment protection provisions pose a real threat to the public interest. The existing investment pact with China notably allows Chinese energy companies to threaten the federal, provincial or territorial governments against imposing environmental rules on tar sands production, pipeline construction and other projects. Chinese firms are almost certain to make use of their treaty protections as they increase their investments in Canadian energy and resource projects, including the CNOOC (the China National Offshore Oil Corporation) purchase of the Canadian energy firm Nexen in 2013.

The Hupacasath First Nation, a 300-member nation located on Vancouver Island, opposed the Canada-China FIPA arguing that the Harper government had failed to consult First Nations before signing it as required by law. They said that FIPA, notably its investor state provision, could be used to override Indigenous rights and give the balance of power in questions of resource management to corporations rather than affected communities. As such, they, and other First Nations, argued that FIPA is an infringement on inherent Aboriginal Title and Rights.

Given Trudeau’s promise of “a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples, based on recognition, rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership”, it will be interesting to see if the prime minister intends to consult and seek approval from First Nations on a Canada-China free trade agreement.

And just as former Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised in his January 2012 speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos to complete a free trade agreement with India, it is expected that Prime Minister Trudeau could make a similar pledge when he speaks to the annual gathering of world leaders and wealthy executives on January 21 this year.

The Toronto Star has previously reported, “A free-trade pact with India would increase sales of a Canadian exports sectors such as forest products, minerals, manufactured goods, agricultural products, fish and seafood products, machinery, construction materials, aerospace and environmental technologies, the federal government said.” And Reuters has reported, “Canada exported $1.4 billion worth of natural resources to India [in 2011] — including only $4.1 million in energy products — and [the Harper government] sees great potential for more trade.” That “potential” could also reportedly include greater Indian investment in the tar sands, uranium exports to India, and the export to India of Canadian expertise in the infrastructure for hydroelectric transmission (related to dam construction).

Trudeau would negotiate the Canada-India free trade agreement with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In April 2015, more than 200 people protested against the Indian prime minister when he visited Vancouver. At that time, the Globe and Mail reported, “The protesters’ signs carried slogans such as ‘Human rights before trade deals’… Community organizer Mustafa Alam said the protest was fuelled by what he described as Mr. Modi’s discrimination against religious minorities. …Several signs [at the protest] referred to the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002 in which more than 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, were killed by mobs when Mr. Modi was the state’s chief minister. Several human rights groups have accused Mr. Modi’s government of indifference as the killings spread.”

The Trudeau government has already committed to “implement” the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). In early October, Trudeau stated, “If the Liberal Party of Canada earns the honour of forming a government after October 19th, we will hold a full and open public debate in Parliament to ensure Canadians are consulted on this historic trade agreement.” So far, the government has only provided to the general public a little publicized e-mail address to submit comments to the government on the TPP. Beyond that, the trade minister has been meeting with government officials, industry groups, two unions and academics. Non-governmental organizations and First Nations are conspicuously absent from the list of those being consulted.

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Photo: Trudeau intends to seek free trade agreements with Chinese president Xi Jinping and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi.