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US Legislators keen to learn from Canada’s trade mistakes

I spent two days this past week/end in beautiful Montpelier Vermont with the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators at their “International Trade & the Environment forum”. This was the first gathering on the trade issue and included legislators from New England states.

An effort was made by organizers (Maine Representative Sharon Treat and NCEL Executive Director JR Tolbert, and host Senator Ginny Lyons of Vermont) to build stronger connections with Canadian allies and to learn a bit from our experiences with Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) as well as with the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) given the negotiations of the T-TIP (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, between the US and the European Union) have started.

Day 1 was open to the public and with about 30 people in the room we covered off some major concerns with T-TIP, including the lack of transparency around the negotiations, and how food and agriculture could be affected. We also heard how trade agreements are essentially about meeting at the lowest common denominator with toxic chemicals as the example.

I started Day 2 off giving an overview of CETA, and getting into Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) which are a major concern with trade agreements from both sides of the border. In my presentation, I spoke to this and gave a couple of Atlantic examples where Chapter 11 of NAFTA has been utilized by American companies to sue the Canadian government. I ended by outlining the serious extreme energy issues in Atlantic Canada (including fracking, the Energy East pipeline, oil and gas in the Gulf of St. Lawrence) and how our democracy is truly threatened given public officials cannot make decisions based on the public good, and instead are concerned they’re not crossing any trade agreement rules.

I was honoured to speak alongside fellow Canadians Scott Sinclair (CCPA) who spoke to the WTO case on Ontario’s Green Energy Act, Pierre-Yves Serinet (RQIC) who addressed the need to rise up and change the system, and Montreal lawyer Dominique Neumann who spoke to the Lone Pine case.

At the end of the conference there was a strategy session for next steps, and there were suggestions that Fast track (part of T-TIP) needed to be a focus and should truly be a bipartisan issue, and to learn from the experiences from Canada with the CETA: taking this information forward to share with other legislators.