When will the Canada-European Union trade deal be signed? It was the first question at all three stops of my short trade tour to Atlantic Canada last week, which hit St. John's, Halifax and Saint John (more on that below). The answer -- "Who knows? But soon I think" -- isn't very satisfying, but with all the conflicting information out there, it's the best we've got!
This week, for example, we heard (in this order):
1. Canadian, European Union bilateral trade agreement close to completion (Edmonton Journal, April 10): "I think we are close," said [Maurizio Cellini, First Counsellor, Head of the Economic Trade section, European Union Delegation to Canada], who was in Calgary for a conference on the topic. "There are still some issues to be discussed which are quite sensitive but I believe a lot of progress has been done so far. It's difficult to make predictions but I think we are quite close to the conclusion."
2. No rush to complete Canada-EU trade pact: Menzies (Canadian Press, a little later on April 10): "There's a lot at stake and when you hear the number values -- like $17 trillion -- there's a lot of interest at stake here so it's very important and we need to get it right," said Harper's minister of state for finance. (Um, $17 trillion is $2 trillion more than the U.S. GDP. Just saying.)
3. Canada-EU trade deal pushed back to summer, Dutch minister says (Globe and Mail, April 11): "Dutch Trade Minister Lilianne Ploumen said Thursday in a written brief to the country's parliament that European officials are now hoping to finalize a deal with Canada 'around the summer,'" according to Globe reporter Barry McKenna.
At about the same time, a Wall Street Journal blog post by Nirmala Menon summed up the groupthink that, "Long-drawn-out free-trade negotiations between Canada and the European Union risk falling by the wayside if the two sides can't reach a deal before the U.S. launches its own talks with Europe around the middle of the year." Menon quotes an unnamed former Canadian trade negotiator claiming the U.S.-EU deal "changes the priorities" for Brussels, and has "serious implications for Canada."
No matter which version of events is true, the good news is it possibly buys trade activists a few more months to pressure the Harper government to walk away from CETA, and the provincial governments to actually explain to voters what the heck they're trying to achieve through the negotiations. Even if a deal is signed in the next few weeks or months, the fight against CETA, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other unfair trade deals can and must continue until the deals are dead.
Trade tour hits Halifax, Saint John
This was partly what public events and political meetings in St. John's (NL), Halifax (NS) and Saint John (NB) this past week were meant to achieve. I've written about the St. John's stop already. Now to the other two stops.
In Halifax, I joined Christine Saulnier of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (pictured) at a public event (Friday, April 5) at Dalhousie University called Our European Gamble: How Canada-EU free trade hurts Atlantic Canada. The event, which was co-organized by the Council of Canadians, CCPA-Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, brought together students, community activists and the public for a discussion of the local impacts of CETA. It was hosted by Angela Giles, Atlantic regional organizer for the Council of Canadians.
Saulnier is the co-author (with Giles and Leanne McMillan) of the CCPA report Who Pays for 'Free' Trade, which argues that the provincial government is over-selling CETA and ignoring or minimizing the potential damage to the local economy. The report explains how CETA could eliminate between 510 and 2,587 jobs in the province, block economic development options, drive up drug costs, encourage privatization of public services, and make the province even more vulnerable than it is in NAFTA to expensive investor-state disputes against provincial policies.
The impacts will be similar in New Brunswick, and so the public event in Saint John three days later, organized by the local chapters of the Council of Canadians and Common Causes, had a similar theme. But we spent a bit longer on the possibility that fisheries policies could also be significantly undermined by the EU trade deal.
As I mentioned in my post on the St. John's trade tour stop, the CETA trade off is that the EU will lower tariffs on all fish products (phased in over seven years) if Canada drops its minimum processing rules that make sure fish caught in Atlantic waters undergoes some value-added production in Canada. Minimum processing rules create jobs in the province. As Scott Sinclair CCPA explain in his recent report on the trade-off in CETA:
At stake is the ability of Canadians to pursue public policies that curb domination of the fisheries by large corporations. These policies help spread the benefits of the fishery more widely among smaller, independent fishers and coastal communities. They also allow the regulation of the fishery for conservation and other public purposes without fear of undue pressure from international corporations or the threat of challenge under unaccountable international trade treaty enforcement mechanisms.
The Saint John chapter of the Council of Canadians organized meetings with Dorothy Shephard, New Brunswick minister of healthy and inclusive communities, and Saint John Harbour MLA Carl Killen. Neither provincial politician had heard much about the CETA negotiations, which is typical across Canada. The provincial governments, at an international trade negotiation for the first time, are being more secretive about it than the Harper government. They hid behind a confidentiality agreement with the feds but with negotiations almost over, that excuse is wearing thin.
Later that evening, I joined the Saint John chapter for a strategy session on fighting Harper's trade agenda in New Brunswick. We started the event by screening a new video from WeStandTogether.ca -- a coalition of groups supporting the Hupacasath First Nation's legal challenge to the Canada-China Foreign Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement (FIPA). Chapter members raised more than $100 from the room to contribute to the Hupacasath's legal funds. You can watch the video and donate as well from the Council of Canadians' website.
Take action on CETA: Demand more from the provinces
At all the provincial meetings during this week's trade tour, we emphasized the need for provincial governments to let people decide whether CETA is in the people's best interests. The federal trade deal ratification process is a sham -- deals are negotiated in secret, signed with great pomp and ceremony, tabled in Parliament for a few weeks then voted on with no chance in between to make any changes. A simple yes or no under an authoritarian Harper majority government means a "yes" every time. That's not acceptable.
So the provinces have a responsibility to democratize CETA, either now or before it can be finalized in the coming months or possibly years. And we have a responsibility to push them on it. You can demand a provincial consultation using our Action Alert here.