Canada-European Union trade talks must be put on hold during election campaign, says Council of Canadians

March 28, 2011
Media Release

Ottawa – A seventh round of Canada-European Union free trade negotiations, set for April 11-15 in Ottawa, should be put on hold until a new federal government has been elected, says the Council of Canadians. The organization is also calling 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.

"Common sense tells us you shouldn't be allowed to make major policy decisions during an election that would bind future governments. But this is exactly what would happen if the Canada-EU free trade talks are allowed to proceed as planned," says Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians.

"The deal on the table involves a number of controversial social and economic policy changes that should be made by Parliament, after a long, thought out debate. It would be another contempt of Parliament for the Harper government to let trade negotiators from the EU decide Canadian public policy behind closed doors, and under cover of an election."

There have been six quiet negotiating rounds so far toward a Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the EU. The provinces and territories are at the table for the first time. According to Canadian trade negotiators, this seventh round of talks in Ottawa will be the first time sensitive, and to date secret, provincial and territorial offers will be exchanged with the EU.

Those offers will include services, including public water, health, transit and energy services, as well as public procurement by provincial and municipal government agencies. The procurement chapter will ban 'Buy Local' and other strategic purchasing strategies by municipal governments in order to open up more public spending to European multinational companies.

During the April round of CETA negotiations, Canadian and EU negotiators may also discuss 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.

"This agreement will fundamentally reshape the Canadian economy, in many cases for the worst," says Barlow. "The provincial and territorial governments have been completely silent about what the kinds of social and economic policies they're willing to give up for weak promises of better access to the EU market. What better time to have a national debate on CETA than during this federal election?"

The Council of Canadians is Canada's largest grassroots social justice organization with tens of thousands of members across the country. The organization is one of over 30 members of the Trade Justice Network, which is contesting the Canada-EU free trade negotiations as a threat to Canadian farmers, workers, artists and the environment.