It couldn’t have been clearer in a recent interview for McLean’s magazine, that International Trade Minister Ed Fast viewed maintaining sovereign control over our public services, investments, intellectual property, environmental protection, government procurement and labour mobility as completely irrelevant in sweeping international trade agreements the government negotiates. Quick as a serpent, Fast labelled those who question the lack of transparency in the negotiations as “anti-investment and anti-trade,” even as he acknowledged that the deals go far beyond the trade of goods.
What started in the 1980s with Mulroney’s push for free trade with the U.S. has now ballooned into huge global trade agreements that threaten the very existence of our nation. Whether it is the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Act (FIPPA), the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada the EU or the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, all are designed to erase borders and lock out democracy.
Corporations and countries with the greatest economic power in the world stand to become even more dominant as they gain unfettered access to our vast wealth of natural resources. Conservative omnibus budgets have been paving the way for these bad bargains with drastic measures to undermine workers’ rights and employment insurance, eliminate our environmental watchdog agencies and empower Ministers to make decisions on pipelines and other development projects.
Recently we heard in the news that, because Canadians have no experience in underground coal mining, hundreds of Chinese miners will be coming to work in four coal mines that are being developed in B.C. by a number of Chinese companies. At the same time we have unemployed skilled and unskilled workers. Some will remember the Rossland Mining School which offered subsidized training programs to unemployed workers and others for both underground and open pit mining. Students were taught safe operating techniques of mine equipment and operations over a three month program and were hired by mines straight out of school.
Perhaps we need to step back and remind ourselves of some of the negative effects that the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and NAFTA have had on our country. Besides the loss of 300,000 manufacturing jobs and locking ourselves into sending cheap oil and gas to the U.S., we also agreed to allow U.S. corporations to sue our government if their profits are undermined by our regulations. Bechtel Corporation was awarded $13 million in taxpayer dollars when it challenged our environmental laws. According to Gus Van Harten, an Osgoode law professor and expert in investment treaties and arbitration panels, Canadian investors have never won compensation in any of the 16 known lawsuits challenging the U.S. and other countries under NAFTA or Foreign Investment Protection Agreements (FIPAs).
Among other things, the Canada/China agreement exposes taxpayers to costly legal challenges via tribunals that conduct hearings in private at the mere request of one party and do not reflect acceptable standards of the rule of law. The pact does not guarantee Canadian investors full reciprocity with the rights that Chinese investors have secured and has a clause binding Canada for a period of 31 years. Alarmingly, the Conservatives have refused to send this agreement to Committee, where it could be studied in detail and where the input of Canadian stakeholders could be invited.
When our imports from China are three times greater ($48.2 billion) than our exports ($16.8 billion) we have a trade deficit that makes it clear how poorly we are being represented in our trade agreements. I would venture to say that most Canadians, regardless of political affiliation, would prefer the path ahead was being laid for a more diversified and well-rounded economy that supports Canadian jobs. We have more than enough bargaining chips with which to negotiate ‘fair trade agreements.’ It is time for Canadians to get full value for the resources we export and that the whole world wants.
Alex Atamanenko, MP BC Southern Interior