Newfoundland & Labrador withdraws from all 'free trade' negotiations

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador took another step today in the escalating feud with the Harper government over the fisheries fund aspect of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

The provincial government has announced that it is "suspending all participation in, and [their] commitment to be bound by the outcomes of any trade agreement currently under negotiation by Canada." According to a letter from the province to the federal government, this includes the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), the Canada-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement, and all negotiations related to the World Trade Organization.

The provincial government has also now strengthened its resolve to "reconsider its support for CETA". The province's Minister of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development Darin King says, "If we see no activity we'll take the actions we've just described to you here from a trade perspective and we'll pull the plug on CETA and Newfoundland will no longer be a part of the deal."

King and the Minister of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs Keith Hutchings also warned that the province could take its case directly to Europe and that it might take the federal government to court. The province has already visited the embassies of European Union member states in Ottawa to raise their grievances with the Harper government on this matter.

While the provincial government is threatening these actions given its dispute with the Harper government over a $400 million fisheries fund, we encourage the province to probe deeper into the implications of CETA and other 'free trade' agreements, notably their investor-state dispute settlement provisions. This is a clause that allows a transnational corporation to sue the national government for legislation, including provincial legislation, that protects the environment or public interest but impacts on the future profits of the company.

In this regard we ask the provincial government to remember that the Harper government paid $130 million to AbitibiBowater Inc. in 2010 to settle a claim that began when then-Premier Danny Williams "expropriated" the company's water and timber rights after it closed its mill in Grand Falls-Windsor and put 800 people out of work. And to note that a NAFTA tribunal ruled against Newfoundland and Labrador in 2012 when it required producers in the Hibernia oil field to invest some of their profits back into research and development in the province.

Newfoundland and Labrador will also face millions in increased costs for pharmaceutical drugs given the Harper government agreed to extending patent protection to highly-profitable drug companies under CETA. In 2011, the Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association estimated the cost to Newfoundland and Labrador of this provision would be $13.2 million a year. Another study that same year by two of Canada's top academics on pharmaceutical policy put the price tag at $46 million a year.

While we are pleased by the statements made today by the provincial ministers, we reiterate our demand of them to hold public consultations to hear what the people of Newfoundland and Labrador have to say about this deal. They would then hear that CETA is a deeply flawed agreement and that it should be scrapped for numerous reasons beyond the fisheries dispute with the federal government. We would also encourage all the Atlantic premiers to go beyond general statements of support for Newfoundland and Labrador on this matter and consider instead stronger positions in opposition to CETA.

To read our media release on this issue, please click here.

Further reading
Kavanagh calls for provincial hearings on CETA in Newfoundland & Labrador (December 2014 blog)
Newfoundland & Labrador premier threatens to withdraw support for CETA (December 2014 blog)
If Harper can't be trusted on the fisheries fund, what about pharmaceutical drugs? (December 2014 blog)