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Where does the NDP stand on CETA?

On October 9, the NDP released its full party platform.

On the issue of ‘free trade’, or specifically for us the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), the platform only says, “The NDP will also set a new standard for open, transparent trade negotiations, which will ensure that we always get the best trade agreements possible for Canadians.”

This would appear to be a step back from NDP leader Thomas Mulcair’s much stronger statement on September 28 during the Munk Centre’s leaders debate.

At that time, he said, “There are aspects of [CETA], like the provisions for investor-state dispute settlements which trouble us and troubles many European countries. It is for that that even if [Harper] has announced it a half dozen times, there is no agreement with Europe. …I will never accept on crucial questions of health or the environment or other important issues that let a non-defined panel of international experts start deciding what I decisions I make in the public interest. That is a fundamental Canadian value to maintain the state’s authority, to make these decisions in the public interest.”

The party does seem to have a clear position against the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provision.

In December 2014, Mulcair told a European audience, “Europe shouldn’t let itself be locked into an agreement that contains such a provision, especially since it’ll serve as the basis for an eventual agreement with the United States. Because ultimately, all these tools, whether it be trade, public spending, natural resource exploitation, or finances, should be at the service of citizens.”

But, as NDP trade critic Don Davies has maintained, “[ISDS] is only one component of a trade deal and we assess them as a whole.” We saw this play out in September 2014 when the NDP indicated it would vote for the ratification of the Canada-South Korea Free Trade Agreement despite its “unnecessary” investor-state dispute settlement provision.

There have been other concerning statements this federal election.

On September 17, NDP candidate Guy Caron (the MP for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques) seemed to suggest that the NDP would not take a position on CETA until the Harper government gave details on their compensation plans for the producers of fine cheeses and for fishers affected by the loss of minimum processing requirements in the deal. Caron said, “As long as we don’t know what the Conservatives actually have promised in terms of compensation — and for what purpose — it’s going to be very hard for us to actually decide specifically on the merits of the whole agreement, which is why we haven’t declared our intention yet.”

On September 30, despite European non-governmental organizations strongly opposing the so-called reform of an international investment court to replace the ISDS provision in the United States-European Union Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (but notably not in CETA), Davies commented that an international investment court is a “good idea that is worth serious consideration”.

And on October 6, NDP candidates Erin Selby (who is running in Saint Boniface-Saint Vital) and Ruth Ellen Brosseau (the MP for Berthier-Maskinongé) held a media conference to speak against the Trans-Pacific Partnership because of the extended patent provision in it that will mean higher drug prices, but reportedly would not condemn CETA for a similar provision.

A poll conducted for the Council of Canadians by EKOS Research found that 61 per cent of Canadians oppose the investor-state provision in CETA. That poll found that 68 per cent of NDP supporters oppose the ISDS provision (along with 71 per cent of Green supporters and 60 per cent of Liberal supporters). That poll also found that 71 per cent of Canadians support the Parliamentary Budget Officer doing an independent economic assessment of CETA. Again, 71 per cent of NDP supporters back this idea (along with 77 per cent of Liberal supporters and 65 per cent of Green supporters).

In September 2012, a poll conducted for the Council of Canadians by Ipsos Reid found that while 81 per cent of Canadians support a ‘free trade’ agreement between Canada and the European Union, 69 per cent of Canadians would oppose the deal if it included a provision that lengthened patents for brand name pharmaceutical drugs (which it does). The legal firm Dimock Stratton LLP says, “[Under CETA], Canada will provide up to an additional two years of patent-like protection for qualifying pharmaceutical products upon the expiry of the relevant patent (with a potential extended term for pharmaceuticals relating to certain target populations, such as pediatric approvals). The actual term of the protection is calculated on a product-by-product basis, and appears to be aimed at providing about 13 years of market exclusivity for eligible pharmaceuticals (versus 15 years in the EU).”

Just as the NDP has been strongly opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership during this federal election, we call on it to listen to Canadians and NDP supporters and reject CETA.