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Canada loses top trade lawyer to private firm; Matthew Kronby to help companies sue government under NAFTA and Canada-EU free trade deal

Ottawa – The Council of Canadians is disturbed by Matthew Kronby’s move from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, where he was Canada’s chief trade lawyer, to Bennett Jones, a private law firm which, among other things, helps corporations sue governments under extreme investment protections in NAFTA and other trade agreements.

The organization notes that Kronby is leaving the federal government in the middle of its Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) negotiations with the European Union, which would appear to compromise the Harper government’s position. But the Council insists this is not the major problem with Kronby’s move to the private sector.

“More than just creating a hole in Canada’s CETA negotiating team, Kronby’s move to the private sector exposes a revolving door between government and law firms that specialize in suing governments under the extreme investment protections in trade deals,” said Stuart Trew, trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians. “Where Kronby would have once defended Canada from corporate NAFTA lawsuits, now he’ll be making a lot more money helping foreign firms use trade deals to undermine public health, safety or environmental measures that they feel hurt their profits.”

Bennett Jones boasts in its promotional material on international trade and investment law that, “Our senior advisors include a former Minister of Public Security (with responsibility for the Canada Border Services Agency), two former Ambassadors to the United States who were heavily engaged in trade issues from the negotiation of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement to high-profile disputes such as Softwood Lumber, and a former Senior Advisor to the Prime Minister of Canada who interest was intimately involved in every major international initiative, trade negotiation or dispute involving Canada for more than a decade.”

These former politicians and government officials, including Kronby, now form part of a growing industry made up of corporations and their lawyers who make a profit off suing governments, often for completely legitimate health, environmental or sustainable development measures that are claimed to disturb corporate profits. Canada recently lost an investor-state dispute brought by Exxon Mobil and Murphy Oil against a legal requirement that they reinvest a portion of their offshore oil and gas profits into research and development in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Though a final award has not been announced, Canada may be on the hook for over $50 million payable to Exxon, the richest corporation in the world in 2011.

Faced with similar attacks on public health policy, the Australian government recently stopped negotiating NAFTA-like investment protections in its trade agreements and is insisting that the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement not include them. The Council of Canadians has written to the Newfoundland and Labrador government to urge it and the federal government not to abide by the NAFTA decision in the Exxon Mobil case, and to cease negotiating extreme investor protections in future agreements, including the CETA.