The Council of Canadians and CUPE’s CETA Tour (Canadian Communities Not for Sale) hit Charlottetown, PEI on December 8. Scott Sinclair, a senior trade researcher with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), was on the panel that night with Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council, and Paul Moist, CUPE National President. Sinclair highlighted what the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) is and is not, and explained some of the challenges the agreement, if concluded, would present for municipalities, public services, farmers and fishing communities.
“No one on this platform questions that international trade is vital for the Canadian and Prince Edward Island economies,” he said at the beginning of his presentation, which you can watch here. “But there are legitimate questions that need to be asked about who benefits from trade and about the role of public policies in assuring that those benefits are shared as widely as possible.”
While urging audience members to “Question everything, read the fine print and ask yourself who benefits” from free trade deals, Sinclair explained how these agreements are about much more than just trade. They are constitution-style documents affecting how services are regulated, how public money can be spent by all levels of government, the types of intellectual property rights large pharmaceutical, seed and entertainment firms are entitled to, and other issues that are only marginally related to trade but are more accurately about governance and democratic choices.
Sinclair touches on some of the elements in CETA that are especially problematic from a democratic point of view. For example:
– the impact of investor-state dispute settlement provisions on public policy in Canada and European skepticism about including it in CETA (Canadian CETA negotiators are in Brussels this week for investment talks);
– the value of procurement to provinces and cities, using the example of the recent shipbuilding contract that will produce enormous economic spinoff benefits in Nova Scotia;
– the risks of giving Suez and other private water companies new investment rights under CETA that will give them the ability to frustrate the public delivery of water services in Canada as they are doing in Argentina using bilateral investment treaties with European countries;
– the costs to consumers and public health care of new intellectual property rights for big brand name drug firms that will increase the price of drugs in Canada;
– the EU’s demands of Canada to eliminate export restrictions on unprocessed fish and get rid of foreign ownership restrictions on processing in Canada, and how this undermines local, sustainable fishing regulations in Atlantic Canada; and
– the probable erosion of supply management of dairy and other sectors through CETA and then Trans-Pacific Partnership talks, which will undermine the strength of Canada’s rural communities and remove space in the Canadian market for Canadian agricultural products.
“This federal government has a seemingly insatiable appetite for trade agreements that eat way at public rights, and those of provincial, territorial and municipal governments,” says Sinclair. “As concerned citizens, we should keep the pressure up against the Harper government’s tactics, and demand that our provincial governments step up and defend our democratic autonomy.”
To read more from Sinclair and the Trade and Investment Research Project he runs out of the CCPA, click here.