April 6, 2011

Election postpones Canada-EU trade offers; now is the time to debate the deal, says Council of Canadians

Ottawa — The Council of Canadians is encouraged the federal and provincial governments have postponed an exchange of offers with the European Union before a seventh round of Canada-EU free trade negotiations next week. The organization is asking the provinces to make any offers public prior to bargaining away public policy with the EU, in light of upcoming provincial elections and new revelations the trade deal is worth half what the Harper government is promising.

“The deal on the table involves a number of controversial social and economic policy changes,” says Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians. “It would be a contempt of democracy for provincial and federal governments to let trade negotiators from the EU decide Canadian public policy behind closed doors.”

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, and were supposed to exchange initial offers with the EU during a seventh round of talks April 11 to 15 in Ottawa. According to news reports today, the offer exchange has been postponed.

Those offers will eventually 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.

The provincial offers are not the only controversy in the CETA negotiations. Just last week we learned the deal will add less than $6 billion to Canada’s GDP after 2020. The Harper government has been falsely claiming benefits of $12 billion by 2014.

During the April round, 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. Such changes would be major policy decisions and so presumably also off limits next week, which is why last week the Council of Canadians called for the negotiating round to be cancelled during the election.

“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. The Council is committing to make CETA a provincial election issue in Prince Edward Island on October 3, Manitoba on October 4, Ontario on October 6, Newfoundland and Labrador on October 11, and Saskatchewan on November 7.