Will the new Canada-EFTA agreement also include the ISDS provision?

Norwegian ambassador Brøther and Swiss deputy head of mission Schedler Fischer support an updated Canada-EFTA agreement.
Norwegian ambassador Brøther and Swiss deputy head of mission Schedler Fischer support an updated Canada-EFTA agreement.

While the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) is yet to be ratified, the Trudeau government may be engaged in an updating of the 2009 Canada-European Free Trade Association (EFTA) agreement with non-EU member states Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

And while the current Canada-EFTA agreement is strictly based on the trade in goods, the new agreement could include the controversial investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provision.

Embassy reports, "Canada and four European partners are preparing to step up talks on an expanded trade agreement this year, with potential implications for Canada’s dairy, beef and pharmaceutical sectors, says [Barbara Schedler Fischer], the Swiss deputy head of mission in Canada. ...Chief negotiators for both sides decided during a Nov. 19 exchange to establish more formal 'exploratory talks' on updating the deal this year, she said."

The article adds, "The EFTA agreement primarily covers the trade of goods. EFTA members Switzerland and Norway are hoping to secure an expanded deal that covers intellectual property, labour mobility, investment, the environment, government procurement, trade in services and opens up more access for their dairy and fish exporters, said Ms. Schedler Fischer and Norwegian ambassador Mona Brøther. ...Swiss pharmaceutical companies would also like stronger intellectual property protections for brand-name drugs exported to Canada, said Ms. Schedler Fischer. Switzerland is the fifth-largest source of foreign investment to Canada, and as such is also interested in adding an investment protection chapter to the EFTA, she said."

As we've previously highlighted, CETA would lengthen the patent protection for pharmaceutical corporations that could cost Canadians between $850 million to $1.65 billion annually. Furthermore, under the investor-state provisions of CETA, companies could sue governments for laws that impact on their future profits. As such, CETA could undermine the implementation of a national pharmacare program. Swiss-based transnationals Novartis and Hoffmann-La Roche are respectively the second and third biggest pharmaceutical corporations in the world.

And the article notes, "Labour mobility is one area Norway’s government would like addressed in an updated agreement, said Ms. Brøther. ...Both countries [also] hope to secure more quota in Canada’s supply management system for cheese, the two diplomats said. ...Other EFTA members are interested in exporting more fish to Canada, she said." It could also mean more beef and canola exports to EFTA countries. "EFTA members are hoping to use the talks to ensure their businesses aren’t put at a disadvantage once Canada’s yet-to-be finalized Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the EU is implemented, both of the diplomats said."

It might also be noted that the transnational Nestle S.A. is headquartered in Vevey, Switzerland.

The Trudeau government remains committed to implementing the Canada-EU CETA. Last week, Canada's trade minister Chrystia Freeland commented, "I think CETA will be really the gold standard of trade agreements. I’m working hard on it and I’m confident we will get a deal soon."

For more on our campaign against CETA and ISDS provisions, please click here.

Photo: Norwegian ambassador Brøther and Swiss deputy head of mission Schedler Fischer support an updated Canada-EFTA agreement.