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U.S. industry groups, labour comment on Canada’s entry to Trans-Pacific Partnership

U.S. industry groups, including the main poultry and dairy associations, complained about Canada’s supply management policies and intellectual property regime during a Monday hearing at the United States Trade Representative on Canada’s entry to the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations. Meanwhile, in its presentation to the USTR, the AFL-CIO urged the U.S. government to incorporate “a new approach to trade policy, one that prioritizes benefits for working families, not simply benefits for multi-national or global enterprises (MNEs).”

Reuters reported Monday that the U.S. dairy and chicken sectors are sore they never received access to Canada’s market as promised in NAFTA. High tariff walls and low quotas prevent exports of these goods from any country from flooding the Canadian market, which is supplied mainly by Canadian farmers and farm production.

“All we’re asking is that we have an open and free fair trade shot at the border,” Bill Roenigk, senior vice president at the National Chicken Council, told the USTR. “The U.S. poultry industry strongly opposes Canada’s participation in the TPP unless Canada expressly commits to removing all border restrictions on poultry imports from the United States.”

Jaime Castaneda, senior vice president at the National Milk Producers Federation, told the same meeting he thinks the United States must seize this opportunity to “finally negotiate an opening of the Canadian dairy market to all US dairy products without restriction,” according to Reuters.

These complaints are not new, quite the opposite. The USTR’s annual report on foreign trade barriers to U.S. exports consistently lists supply management as an irritant with Canada. They also list dairy-related regulations in Canada which, god forbid, “limit the ingredients that can be used in cheese making, set a minimum for raw milk in the cheese making process, and make cheese importers more accountable for ensuring that imported product is in full compliance.”

Imagine having a minimum requirement for milk content in cheese. What are we thinking?

Other Canadian irritants listed in the 2012 USTR report, which will certainly come up in TPP negotiations, include: provincial liquor board policies favouring local wines, subsidies for Canada’s aerospace sector, local content quotas for solar and wind projects in Ontario’s Green Energy Act, Canadian copyright and pharmaceutical patent regimes, foreign ownership caps in the telecommunications sector, Canadian content requirements for radio and television broadcasting (and other cultural policies), privacy laws in B.C. and Nova Scotia that limit what personal information can be shared across borders, and procurement by Crown corporations, which wasn’t included in the Canada-U.S. Agreement on Government Procurement.

These complaints come directly from industry groups, many of which presented to the USTR on Monday on their views about Canada joining the TPP talks, which the Harper government will do this December in New Zealand. These groups, which have more than likely seen the draft TPP text unlike other civil society groups who are left in the dark, included the International Dairy Foods Association, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA), U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others.

Michael Geist, an expert on copyright issues at the University of Ottawa, writes in the Ottawa Citizen today about what reforms the IIPA is looking for in Canada that weren’t already made in Harper’s latest copyright legislation. For example, the U.S. industry group wants Canada to adopt the U.S. “notice-and-takedown” approach to suspected copyright infringement online. In Canada, internet service provider are only required to give notice to users who have been accused of infringing copyright-protected materials.

“Instead,” writes Geist, “the copyright lobby wants Canada to implement measures that would require Internet providers ‘to take action to prevent recidivists from repeatedly using their services to commit copyright infringement.’ The plain language demand: a termination system that would cut off Internet access for subscribers accused of infringement.”

(It should be pointed out that according to Canadian officials, the EU is asking for the same “notice-and-takedown” rules in the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement negotiations.)

The AFL-CIO, representing U.S. workers across many sectors, presented USTR with a different take on Canada’s participation in the TPP talks, and U.S. trade policy in general.

Celeste Drake with the union said “blind opposition to the inclusion of Canada in the TPP would be ill-considered,” but that “the working families of North America would be ill-served by the inclusion of Canada in a trade agreement that expands trade in a way contrary to their interests.” In fact, she said, “There is substantial evidence that U.S. FTAs have not, on balance, economically bennefitted America’s working families. Rather, they have combined with other bad policy choices on taxes, infrastructure, bank deregulation, and more to suppress incomes for American families, shrink the middle class, and reduce the ability of the labor movement to provide an effective counterbalance to the ever-growing power of capital.”

Sounds familiar, eh? The same free-trade policy that has ballooned the U.S. trade deficit has done the same to Canada with many of its free trade partners.

The AFL-CIO critique of trade agreements like the TPP mirrors in many respects that of groups like the Trade Justice Network to ongoing Canada-EU trade negotiations. It includes requests that the TPP investment chapter omit investor-state dispute settlement, that procurement remain a tool “to stimulate their domestic economies through domestic infrastructure and spending programs,” that intellectual property protections must be balanced to also “promote legitimate generic competition” (of drugs, for example), that public services be fully protected at all government levels, full transparency of the negotiating text, and “a neutral analysis of how the U.S. proposals are likely to impact jobs, wages, worker rights, and the overall standard of living for Americans.”

The Harper government lobbied enthusiastically for a seat at the TPP table and it will finally have that seat during the next round in New Zealand. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told a Canadian Council of Chief Executives meeting this week that the TPP “will open new markets and create new business opportunities to create jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for all Canadians.” Baird said the deal “will enhance trade in the Asia-Pacific region while providing greater economic opportunity for Canadian businesses,” and that he’s “confident the TPP will set a high standard that the Doha Round has failed to achieve.”

But the copyright, drug patent, investment and e-commerce (data sharing) provisions have all become very controversial for most countries involved in the TPP negotiations apart from the United States. Chile doesn’t see why it should revise its copyright legislation so soon after agreeing to a more modest intellectual property chapter in its free trade deal with the U.S. The Australian government still does not want to bend on its refusal to include an investor-state dispute settlement process in the TPP.

The former deadline of end-of-2012 to wrap up the talks is well off-base, with U.S. officials not willing to set a new one. Some of those TPP countries–Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei–are planning to launch separate trade negotiations called the ASEAN+6, which would also include Japan, South Korea, China, and India. Even the Conservative chair of the international trade committee, Rob Merrifield, has likened the TPP to the doomed Doha round of WTO negotiations, all of which contradicts Baird’s optimism.

The TPP will remain a big priority for the Canadian big business community, likely more important to them than the CETA negotiations, as the CCCE conference this week on Canada’s engagement in Asia suggests. The Harper government knows this, which is why it is rushing to finish the CETA negotiations before it has to take up a serious position at the TPP table. No doubt European negotiators know this, too, and will use it to their advantage, possibly to squeeze more concessions (and a worse deal) out of the Harper government than it would normally have been inclined to make.

For more blogs, reports and actions on the TPP: www.canadians.org/TPP