CETA and the Provinces/Territories – A Basisc Strategy

Prepared by the Trade Justice Network, July 2013

According to the latest rumours, the Harper government would like to announce the conclusion of Canada-European Union free trade negotiations by the end of the summer. This deal has already been delayed many times, and hopefully it will be again. But an announcement could come over the next few weeks, or months.

While the exact timing is out of our hands, we expect that once an agreement-in-principle is announced, the federal government will ask each province/territory to give its formal blessing to the deal, since so much of CETA will permanently constrain their policy flexibility.

There are two points of possible pressure on the provinces at this stage:

1)      It is possible that the trade negotiators for the provinces/territories are operating in a trade deal bubble, without making it clear to other government departments and agencies how their jurisdictions will be affected if the Province/Territory signs on to CETA.

2)      If a Canada-EU deal in principle is announced, it will be crucial that we move strongly and quickly to demand that after years of secret negotiations the public should have the right to change or say NO to CETA before any province/territory ratifies it.

We believe there are very simple things we can do independently and jointly on these two fronts in the coming weeks.

BURSTING THE TRADE DEAL BUBBLE

Letters to and meetings with provincial/territorial departments of energy, environment, agriculture, municipal affairs, etc, should happen as soon as possible to express concern about the ways CETA will constrain policymaking in their sectors. These don’t have to be extremely detailed—we can ask questions and propose further analysis—but should help force more inter-governmental communication on what is at stake in the EU deal.

Examples include:

– New or existing provincial/territorial environmental regulations that might be constrained by CETA, opening them up to Investor-State disputes for compensation when environmental rules affect EU companies (e.g. fracking moratorium in Quebec);

– Provincial/territorial energy, transportation or telephone utilities that will be affected at least by procurement rules, and probably limited in how much they can operate solely in the interests of their province/territory;

– Crown corporations for insurance, property assessment, energy utilities, or any of the various provincial/territorial agencies that could be challenged in every aspect of their operation by EU companies;

– “Buy local” policies, for example local food purchasing policies, in the broader public sector (e.g. hospitals in Ontario), that could be interfered with, or eliminated, on tenders over certain thresholds (transit and other utilities a good example of procurement municipalities want the provinces/territories to exclude from CETA);

– Provincial liquor stores and agencies could face challenges since the CETA will be the first Canadian FTA where the monopolies and state enterprise obligations will apply fully to provincial monopolies;

– Modest economic gains from lowering tariffs could be wiped out by added drug costs from changes to Canada’s intellectual property regime for pharmaceuticals – a fact recognized by the Ontario government and factored into their assessment of CETA.

THE RESPONSE: It is suggested that groups, organizations and individuals write to the various government departments that might be left out of these CETA negotiations, to alert them to what’s being put on the table. Letters from the Canadian Environmental Law Association to the Ontario departments of Environment and Energy have been attached to this email as examples.

But it is important that we not feel constrained by the need to be total experts on these issues before we take them up. It is enough to a) alert various government departments to issues they may not be aware of, and; b) make it clear to governments that we are watching these issues and will be holding them to account if they are not exercising due diligence.

DEMANDING A DEMOCRATIC PROCESS

This is a fundamental argument. We have been prevented from knowing exactly what is in CETA because the negotiations have been kept out of sight. But the deal will have lasting effects on our rights as citizens, in particular our democratic right to self determination on a great number of issues.

THE RESPONSE: It is recommended that all of us start right now to agitate provincially, territorially and municipally for a democratic process for determining provincial/territorial approval of CETA in between the conclusion of negotiations (e.g. Harper announcing he has a deal “in principle”) and when the provinces/territories formally give their consent, after which it will be difficult to change the text.

There are precedents for public engagement in Canada. In the 1990s, the B.C. government consulted the public on the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), leading to a conclusion it would not be in the Province’s interests for Canada to sign. More recently, the former Saskatchewan government consulted the public on whether or not to join the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA, now New West Partnership Trade Agreement) and decided it was not in the Province’s interests.

If the process of negotiating this far reaching deal in secret is then paired with a ratification process that denies the public a right to be heard in a meaningful way, then we will have fundamentally altered our future and our rights without any meaningful and informed consultation with the people affected. It would be impossible to overstate the anti-democratic nature of such a result.

The call for a process that guarantees the right to be heard on CETA should be loud and strong and it should come from every possible source. It should be directed to the premiers, provincial/territorial cabinet ministers, members of provincial/territorial governments, members of the opposition, municipal governments and the media, and the only limit on this call should be the imagination of the people and organizations who want to be heard.

All of which is respectfully suggested,

Trade Justice Network / Réseau pour le commerce juste

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Posted on July 15, 2013, in Democracy, Trade. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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