In January 2011, I joined with allies in front of the European Commission building in Brussels, Belgium to denounce the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and the role it would play in facilitating tar sands exports to Europe.

The push by transnational corporations and both the Harper and Trudeau governments for this “free trade” deal stretched over almost a nine year period. Sadly, September 19 will mark the one year anniversary of CETA coming into force.

Trade minister Jim Carr — who was the natural resources minister when the Trans Mountain pipeline was approved — and European trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström will be meeting on September 26-27 in Montreal to take stock of the first year of the deal.

One of the issues they are likely to talk about are tar sands exports to Europe.

This Global Affairs website highlights, “Under CETA, Canadian exporters of oil and gas products and services can now enjoy the advantages created from the agreement over competitors based in countries that do not have a preferential trade agreement in force with the EU.”

It’s hard for Carr to make the case that CETA has been the economic success story that was promised to the public by both his government and the Harper government.

The CBC reports that overall growth in Canadian exports to Europe has been less than one per cent. Global Affairs Canada says, for the period September 2017 to July 2018, merchandise exports to Europe are up 3.3 per cent while imports from Europe into Canada are up 12.9 per cent.

The CBC also notes that while beef and pork exports have not increased (pending agreement on food safety rules), Global Affairs does boast that the fastest-growing exports to Europe now include non-alloyed unwrought aluminum, cars and auto parts, inorganic chemicals, pharmaceuticals, cranberries, maple syrup, and notably mineral fuels and oil (including crude oil).

While in part based on the Energy East pipeline being built, the Natural Resources Defense Council had projected in January 2014 that tar sands exports from Canada to Europe could increase from about 4,000 barrels per day to about 725,000 bpd by 2020.

Key in achieving the goal of increased tar sands exports to Europe was limiting the scope of the European Fuel Quality Directive, which was to include a measure that assigned a higher carbon intensity level to oil derived from the tar sands.

In February 2011, it was reported that the Harper government was threatening to scrap CETA talks if the European Union persisted with its plans for this fuel quality directive measure. In September 2011, Canada’s chief negotiator for CETA suggested that Canada would challenge the European Union at the World Trade Organization if the fuel quality directive wasn’t changed. By December 2014 the European Union capitulated to the Harper government’s demand.

And now we see Global Affairs under Trudeau highlighting oil exports to Europe increasing as an argument for why CETA has been a success.

Furthermore, should all European jurisdictions ratify the so-called investment protection provision in CETA that Trudeau has pushed for, transnational corporations would be in an even stronger position to challenge environmental protections and Indigenous rights that infringe on their profitability with respect to tar sands production and export.

Despite the climate chaos an even further expansion of the tar sands would cause, Trudeau has stated, “No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there.”

His government also talks of “Opportunities and Benefits of CETA for Canada’s Oil and Gas Exporters” given “The EU is the world’s largest importer of oil and gas products, with imports totalling $336 billion in 2016.”

The one-year anniversary of CETA is a political moment to reflect and recommit to fighting a “free trade” agenda that worsens the climate crisis and subsumes the imperative of climate justice and a 100 per cent clean energy economy.

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Brent Patterson

Brent Patterson is a political activist, writer and the executive director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. He lives in Ottawa on the traditional, unceded and unsurrendered territories of the Algonquin...