The Council of Canadians has been arguing that Canada-European Union free trade talks – scheduled for April 11-15 in Ottawa – should be put on hold during this federal election. We have also called on provincial and territorial governments to use this pause in the negotiations to consult publicly on what, if anything, should be put on the table.
Embassy magazine reports this morning, “The federal election may not have stopped Canadian and European negotiators from meeting for another round of trade talks this week—but it did postpone a landmark moment for the negotiations: the presentation of formal offers. …Negotiators were planning to present their parties’ formal offers during this week’s seventh round of free trade talks… ‘During elections there will be no major policy decision that will be taken, and I would say that includes not making the offers during the elections,’ (Quebec chief negotiator Pierre-Marc) Johnson told Embassy during an interview on April 4.”
Those offers could have included services, notably public water, health, transit and energy services, as well as public procurement by provincial and municipal government agencies. Negotiators may have also discussed opening Canada’s telecommunications and financial sectors to more foreign ownership, extending Canada’s patent terms on brand name drugs, undermining provincial liquor boards and supply management systems for dairy farmers, and opening up Atlantic fishing ports to more European boats.
The Vancouver Sun and Postmedia newspapers across the country reported on March 30, “Free trade critics say the (EU) report backs their argument that Prime Minister Stephen Harper should postpone the next round of negotiations, to take place in April, so that Canadians can debate the issue during the election campaign. ‘Harper should explain why his government is ready to sell out Canada’s farmers, municipalities and public services for a measly $6 billion, or half what he wants to give away in corporate tax cuts over the coming years,’ Council of Canadians spokesman Stuart Trew said Wednesday.” Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow was in the Toronto Star on March 31 saying, “Common sense tells us you shouldn’t be allowed to make major policy decisions during an election that would bind future governments. The deal involves controversial social and economic policy changes that should be made by Parliament.”
At a campaign stop last week, Stephen Harper vowed his government would move ahead ‘full throttle’ to complete the CETA talks by January 1, 2012. It is now unclear when the negotiators will table their offers. It could be during the next round of talks in July in Brussels. Embassy reports, “Johnson said it does not necessarily have to happen during a formal round of talks.”
But the formal offers could even be delayed past the provincial elections this coming October. The Embassy article also notes, “Meanwhile, provincial elections across the country this year might also slow things down, especially since sensitive topics like government procurement have not been very popular among civil society groups and labour unions, experts say. Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland all have fixed election dates this year. Quebec does not have a fix date, but an election is set for 2012 and Premier Jean Charest, a champion of the Canada-EU negotiations, looks increasingly embattled. …Canadian provinces and territories have been crucial players during these trade talks, sitting for the first time with the federal government at the negotiating table. Having provinces on board has been one of the EU’s key demands, with the aim of opening up sub-federal procurement to European companies.”
“Jean-Michel Laurin, vice president of global business policy at Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, said the trade agreement with Europe will not win provinces many political points close to election time. ‘This is not necessarily an issue they want to deal with,’ Mr. Laurin said of provincial governments. ‘They are probably going to be very careful before making major commitments before an election.'”
The full article is at http://www.embassymag.ca/page/view/eu-04-06-2011.