Skip to content

Why Fast-Track trade deals, but not climate agreements?


Shoes protesting in the Place de la République, when Parisians could not protest due to the state of emergency.

Maude Barlow and myself are in Paris to participate in events surrounding the Paris Climate Change Conference after spending the last month touring Europe to warn Europeans about CETA, the Canadian-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. Based on Canada’s almost 30 years of experience with free trade with the U.S. and Mexico, we have experiences to share.

But as the conference opens, I cannot help thinking that, while countries rush to sign trade deals such as CETA and the new Trans-Pacific Partnership, they cannot seem to get a binding climate change agreement. Very little at the UN or in previous climate conferences has been binding. But somehow, for trade agreements, this doesn’t seem to happen. Countries pull all their resources into them, rushing around the world from Maui to Atlanta to Guam, desperate for agreements that gives corporations more rights. Provisions for the environment, human rights and labour rights may be not be enforceable, and we may never be able to control tax shelters or regulate global financial markets. However, trade agreements allow corporations to have binding rights through the Investor State Dispute Settlement process, involving a private arbitration process that allows corporations to sue states over laws or decisions that get in the way of profits. The message is: you have a right to profits but no rights to clean air or a decent wage, no rights to have clean drinking water.

CETA and TPP are both major trade deals that must be fought. They matter because they set the new rules for the next corporate century. They take power away from elected parliaments and into the hands of corporations. They deregulate our social standards. They encourage unsustainable large-scale farming. They add to our pharmaceutical costs. And much more. Hashed out in secret between trade lawyers and lobbyists, these trade agreements have little to do with “eliminating trade barriers” and increasing trade and much to do with carving up the world between different national and corporate interests. But surely TPP is more important than CETA? The list of TPP countries with low wages and low social standards is certainly cause for alarm. But as Maude Barlow says, just because the EU seems “cool” and their standards seem higher than ours doesn’t mean we’re going to get a better trade deal. It is the same process, with corporations on both sides of the Atlantic getting their way. European companies would love to get their hands on our mainly public municipal services, which could be run by private companies with the motive trumping public service. Our petroleum companies have done their part to lower environmental standards in Europe and to seek potential energy markets, at the expense of advanced European environmental policies. In other words, it is a race to the bottom for us all.

But what’s exciting about CETA is that Europeans actually have the power to defeat it. And if they do so, they would be sending a powerful signal to stop corporate globalization. The European Union was formed in part to have the economic weight to counter Americanization of the global economy. Creating the Union was a way of protecting their social standards. Now, contemplation of CETA and TTIP, a proposed agreement with the United States, poses a test of how to resist economic globalization. With many people active worldwide, Germany saw 250,000 people on the streets to protest TTIP. Over three million people signed petitions against CETA and TTIP. In Europe, it is not just a small group of the usual suspects protesting, but also governments, political parties and civil society. In the U.K., Maude met with Global Justice Now, where she met resisters in Scotland, Ireland, London, Leeds and Manchester. In Spain, the city of Barcelona called itself a no-TTIP zone and greeted Maude Barlow at the city hall. In Madrid, Maude was greeted at the National Assembly.


Maude Barlow in Barcelona


Garry Neil, Nicolas Roux, Pierre-Yves Sérinet and Sujata Dey at the National Assembly, France

In France, executive director Garry Neil and I spoke to activists in a theatre, and we met politicians in the National Assembly who were very concerned about ISDS. In Germany as well, Garry and I were encouraged by the breadth of the opposition. They were buoyed at the idea that Canadians, too, were fighting CETA. There, we met politicians at the Bundestag, many sharing our concerns, and even conservative politicians were worried about ISDS. They were also intrigued by Canadian legal scholar Gus Van Harten’s proposal to protect a Paris climate agreement from ISDS. In Austria, we met with the governing party: they had already refused to sign CETA if there was ISDS. In Karlsruhe, Germany, we were the guests of the Bishop of Baden Württemberg: who opposes TTIP and CETA. Garry Neil also spoke at the European Parliament.


Sujata Dey and Maude Barlow at the Austrian Parliament

Now, comes the hard part: how do we defeat this agreement in Canada and the EU? Many Europeans wanted to know about “Justin”: would he reform CETA? Would he back it? From our meetings, I am convinced that some Europeans will ask Trudeau should reopen CETA to get rid of the ISDS clause and make the agreement more palatable to the European public. They want to replace it with an Investment Court, which is somewhat friendlier to activists but still establishes a court for investors’ rights. In Canada, we have to do our job and make sure our government understands that this cosmetic reform doesn’t change the nature of the agreement, which needs to be radically changed. As there will be no parliamentary vote in Canada, we need to ensure that there are public consultations as well as analysis by the Parliamentary Budget Officer. On the European side, the Council of Canadians will be going back to Europe to lobby members of the European Parliament. We need the Europeans to help push us to higher standards rather than have Canadian corporations negotiate all our standards lower. We must defeat the TPP, but to do this we need to defeat CETA and show that these trade deals are not the new order. And certainly, as Maude Barlow says, these deals are not about prosperity for all but about further cementing the rights of the one per cent.

For more photos, click here. 

Originally published in the Huffington Post.