Prime Minister Harper and posse are in Europe this week for the annual World Economic Forum. He's hobnobbing with world leaders, business lobbyists and the super-elite, pushing Canada's entry into Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks, promoting the advanced Canada-EU free trade negotiations. So the leaking of key documents related to the CETA talks is bound to embarrass Harper and Trade Minister Ed Fast. At least we hope so...
Wednesday morning, the Quebec Network on Continental Integration (RQIC) went public with Canada's initial services and investment offer to the EU in the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement negotiations. The documents list those sectors, policy areas and measures that are to be carved out of the agreement, or not subject to the restrictions that CETA will place on government policy in those areas. The Trade Justice Network followed RQIC's lead, posting the offers to its website and releasing a statement which says:
Canadian civil society groups concerned about the scope and overly secretive negotiating process of the CETA have been calling for Canada's offers to be made public for many months and for the negotiations to be subject to public input prior to the signing of any agreement. The Trade Justice Network... once again urges the federal, as well as provincial and territorial governments, to cease negotiating and allow this public debate to happen.
Early Canadian Press articles have been picked up by dozens of news sources. They write that:
Leaked documents from the Canada-European Union free trade talks suggest Ottawa is seeking to carve out telecommunications and agriculture from any agreement... But there is no exemption for water services, a sore point with critics of the negotiations which many expect will result in a signed, comprehensive deal later this year.
The Council of Canadians and Canadian Union of Public Employees warned in a December 2010 report, Public Water for Sale, that if water services weren't carved out of Canada's services and investment offers it would spell big trouble for municipal governments in the future. Existing privatization would be locked-in, we said, and introducing new rules or regulations on drinking water or wastewater services would become difficult and subject to investor-state challenges by private water firms. Stay tuned for a full assessment of what these new documents mean for Canada's public water systems.
The CP article says, "although the Conservatives have signalled intentions to loosen foreign investment rules in the Canadian telecommunications sector, Canada's initial position seeks to keep the current restrictions in place."
An article in Le Devoir yesterday goes into more detail on the leaked documents. The French daily speaks with the Institut de recherche en économie contemporaine (IREC), whose assessment of the offers suggests Quebec is opening the door to the privatization of public contracts, which was a primary interest for the EU in coming to the table with Canada.
The new information is bound to worry municipal governments even more about how CETA will impact their powers and the way they deliver public services like transit, water, energy and other essentials. If these sectors are not excluded from the EU trade deal in both Annex I (existing policies) and Annex II (future policies), municipalities make themselves vulnerable to trade challenges and corporate lawsuits for any new measure that affects the profitability of multinationals operating in those sectors.
Keep in mind these are initial offers. And while the October round of CETA negotiations in Ottawa was the final formal round, federal and EU negotiators have been meeting almost weekly since then by teleconference to come to a deal both sides will accept. It's likely Canada would have removed some of the sectors or policy exemptions listed in these documents since last October. European negotiators will be in Ottawa from January 30 to February 4 for an in-person negotiation on remaining difficult areas.
The Council of Canadians joins the Trade Justice Network in calling for an immediate halt to the CETA negotiations. As the TJN says in its media release:
Now that initial services and investment offers are public, the Trade Justice Network also calls on provincial governments to release their procurement offers to the EU, and to allow public input into these also.
We'll be updating our action alerts on CETA very shortly to account for this new information. Stay tuned...