Liberal trade critic Wayne Easter is calling on Parliament to “investigate the serious trade ramifications of the Canada-U.S. perimeter security deal,” according to a press release on January 27. Easter focuses on the work of the Regulatory Cooperation Council, a binational government body looking to harmonize Canadian and U.S. food, environmental and product safety rules across the border. The RCC is holding a “stakeholder session” at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. this week — the first since Harper and Obama announced their Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness Action Plan at a joint press conference in early December.
“This government’s Joint Action Plan, which will lead the work of the Canada-United States Regulatory Cooperation Council, ‘seeks to foster new approaches to regulatory alignment,’ in a wide range of areas from agriculture to health and personal care products to the environment,” says Mr. Easter. “Given that more than $1.6 billion of goods cross the border daily between our two countries, it is our responsibility to fully examine the implications of this initiative and ensure broad public input and participation in this important endeavour.”
As a late Tuesday update, the U.S. consumer group Food and Water Watch released a statement today commenting on the RCC hearings in Washington. See below for more on this…
The Liberal trade critic has tabled a motion calling on the House of Commons Committee on International Trade to hold public hearings on the regulatory aspects of the perimeter deal.
“Canadians understand the importance of making our trade relationship with the United States more efficient, but they also expect us to defend Canadian standards and structures that have served this country well,” says Easter. “Furthermore, Canadians are rightly concerned by recent statements where President Obama said in no uncertain terms that his administration would work aggressively to assist US manufacturers and producers that keep their operations in the US. Such heightened protectionism could have very serious implications on our ability to harmonize our economic relationship with the United States. As such, it is my expectation that the members of the International Trade committee will accept this responsibility to fully examine the implications of this cross-border initiative.”
REGULATORY STAKEHOLDER SESSION IN D.C.
Yesterday’s overview session on the work of the RCC was open to any interested groups in the Washington area. Today is devoted to “technical review and advisory sessions for specific sectoral initiatives in the RCC Joint Action Plan.” You’ll see from the agenda the sessions are broken up into: Agriculture and Food (perimeter approach to plant protection, crop protection products, meat, veterinary drugs and zoning for animal disease, food safety testing); Road Transport; Personal Care Products and Pharmaceuticals; Air Transport; Transportation; Nanotechnology; Marine Transport; Environment, and; Rail Transport.
As I’ve mentioned before in this space, the Council of Canadians would have no problem with regulatory harmonization if the standards were guaranteed to improve and if there were sufficient room to change them in the future given any new information about the safety of any given product. We need the flexibility to make rules stricter. We should also be abiding by the precautionary principle where both the U.S. and Canada have adopted the so-called risk-management approach which says you give maximum freedom to put products on the market and only interfere when things go wrong (ex. when people get sick or worse).
Also as mentioned before, the goal of the National Association of Manufacturers, one of the primary movers of this perimeter deal with the U.S. along with counterparts at the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, is to encourage the Obama administration to “Say NO to NEW REGULATIONS” in the energy and manufacturing sectors. The association claims, “The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) aggressive regulatory agenda threatens economic growth and jobs. It would burden manufacturers with higher energy costs and harsh rules that would make it harder to do business in the United States.”
So while we can hope for the best — that high standards will be protected — it’s likely, given the type of stakeholders who will be attracted to the RCC process, that we will get the opposite. In most cases, it’s hard to imagine Canada doing anything but adopting U.S. norms in most cases. This would be the simplest way forward given the strength of U.S. business lobbies in Washington, and the reluctance of U.S. authorities to compromise on their own regulatory sovereignty.
The Council of Canadians is monitoring the perimeter and regulatory harmonization talks, which are expected to drag out over the next three years. We therefore support Easter’s call for public hearings into the work of the Regulatory Cooperation Council and will follow-up with this process if and as it moves ahead.
FOOD AND WATER WATCH RAISES FOOD SAFETY FLAGS WITH PERIMETER TALKS
U.S. consumer groups share the same concerns as Canadian counterparts regarding the potential to lower standards on both sides of the border. Commenting on this week’s stakeholder sessions in D.C., Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch, issued the following statement:
The proposals, which were developed by the Obama and Harper administrations, include reducing or eliminating the regulations for imported meat, poultry and egg products from Canada. One of the proposals is to allow imports from Canada to go without inspection at the border and allow imported meat, poultry and egg products to be sent directly to U.S. processing plants. This is an unacceptable change that abandons USDA’s responsibility to U.S consumers.
The reason that the USDA border inspection system was put into place to begin with was to prevent contaminated meat from entering the country and to make sure that trucks from Canada are transporting meat under sanitary conditions. Recently USDA import inspectors on the Canadian border turned away a truck transporting meat from Canada and a drum containing a toxic chemical in the same truck compartment. This is just one example of why U.S. consumers need imported meat to go through inspection at the border.
Also, we understand that there is a proposal being considered that would have so-called “trusted traders” escape border inspection altogether, based on their food safety track record. We believe this violates the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Poultry Products Inspection Act, and the Egg Products Inspection Act because products would be put into commerce without inspection.
While the U.S.’s food safety track record is far from perfect, Canada has also experienced serious food borne illness outbreaks. Canada is still reeling from a 2008 outbreak involving Listeria monocytogenes that killed 22 people. The response to that crisis involved hiring over 200 inspectors, but on January 16 of this year, the Canadian government announced that it was eliminating those positions. Nearly half of our imported meat products come from Canada and the USDA Inspector General has been critical of the lax enforcement of U.S. meat and poultry regulations by Canadian food safety officials. Eliminating U.S. inspections of meat poultry and egg products from Canada is unacceptable and we urge the Obama administration to drop this proposal that prioritizes trade relations above consumer protection.