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Canada-EU Trade Deal: Sell-out or celebration? Public needs a veto on massive corporate rights treaty

Ottawa, ON – Responding to reports today that Canada and the European Union have concluded negotiations on a massive new corporate rights treaty called the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), the Council of Canadians is demanding that parliament and the public be given an opportunity to review and make changes to the deal, or even to reject it outright, before it can be signed.

“There is no compelling economic case for CETA, but we know the deal is full of unnecessary and costly changes to public policy, and even our ability to decide what kinds of policies we want,” warns Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians. “From the leaks we’ve seen, CETA will be a capitulation to the interests of European multinational companies in exchange for what – a few extra tonnes of meat and fish heading to Europe? Harper will try to spin this is a big victory for every part of this country but no one should accept that until we’ve seen the deal for ourselves.”

The Council of Canadians, as part of the Trade Justice Network, has been pressing the federal and provincial governments for a public review of CETA between the conclusion of negotiations and its signing. The network is asking organizations and individuals to join this call for transparency by signing a statement at http://tradejustice.ca. There are precedents for reviewing trade deals in several provinces, including Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Quebec, where trade agreements have been studied and even rejected based on public opposition. The Trade Justice Network will be asking provincial governments for a legislative and public review of CETA regardless of the federal government’s response.

“If the people and our elected officials don’t demand to see and make changes to CETA now, there won’t be an opportunity later,” says Stuart Trew, trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians. “Once these deals are signed, the federal Conservative government can, and has already many times, ignored every opposition amendment. We can’t allow that to happen for CETA, which as Harper keeps telling us is the most ambitious, largest free trade deal in Canada’s history.”

The Council of Canadians has consistently raised concerns about CETA, emphasizing four aspects of the deal that should be rejected completely. These four elements of CETA show how the deal affects much more than trade, and will put permanent constraints on our ability to govern in the public interest. They are:

1. Public Procurement: Municipal governments, including Toronto, Victoria, Hamilton and Red Deer have asked to be exempted from CETA rules banning “buy local” policies and other tools for supporting local jobs and development through public spending. Municipalities should be informed immediately about whether or not their requests were granted by provincial governments in the final EU deal. Local governments should be excluded from these unnecessary constraints on their ability to govern. At the very least, they should be able to opt out of the procurement chapter, even if it means re-opening negotiations with the EU. Provincial governments should also exclude strategic spending (e.g. local content quotas on hydro, transit and local food) and spending targeted for regional development purposes.

2. Water services: Up to this summer, leaked CETA documents revealed that Canada was unwilling to exclude drinking water, sanitation and other water-related services from an investment chapter that would essentially lock in existing privatization and encourage more private delivery of water services. The EU and EU member states were requesting a complete carve-out for water, which would help shield public decisions related to water services (e.g. the re-municipalization of privatized systems, or the creation of new public water utilities) from trade or corporate lawsuits. Canada must exclude water services of any kind from CETA.

3. Pharmaceutical patents: It is almost certain that the Harper government granted more patent protection to brand name drug companies as pressed by the EU and Big Pharma lobby groups in Canada. According to a 2012 federal assessment that the Harper government tried to suppress, these changes could cost Canada up to $2 billion annually, while other studies suggest it could be even higher. There is no acceptable reason to make any changes to Canada’s patent regime, let alone in a secret international trade negotiation. At the very least, parliament and the public should have the right to revoke any changes promised by the Harper government on patents in the final EU deal.

4. Investor “rights”: Canada is facing nearly $2.5-billion worth of corporate lawsuits under an investment protection chapter in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), including challenges against Quebec’s limited moratorium on fracking and, from pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, Canada’s patent laws and the independence of Canadian courts. The European Parliament and an independent sustainability impact assessment of CETA done for the European Commission argued there was no good reason to reproduce these corporate “rights” in a Canada-EU deal since legal systems in both jurisdictions can handle disputes between corporations and government. Australia, South Africa, India and a dozen Latin American countries have either stopped signing investment treaties that give corporations the right to sue governments for public policies they don’t like, or else they are revising or repudiating existing treaties. CETA must under no circumstances include an investor-state dispute settlement process.

“The CETA is a lot like one of Harper’s omnibus budget bills. It’s one tenth trade and nine tenths ideological changes to public policy that will undermine our ability to create and improve public services, protect the environment, keep health costs low and create good local jobs,” says Trew. “It will be the ultimate insult if after agreeing to all these changes in closed-door talks with EU negotiators, Harper then gives us no chance to decide if the deal is really in our best interests.”