Letter to the Editor

February 4th, 2011

February 02, 2011

We’re getting contradictory messages about the Canada-European Union free trade negotiations from the federal government and business lobby groups like the Canada-EU Roundtable for Business. Either free trade is so obviously beneficial to the Canadian economy that it needs no explaining, as Trade Minister Peter Van Loan is fond of saying. Or else the negotiations are so complex that trying to peer behind the curtain to challenge what that booming government voice is saying is pointless.

Jason Langrish of CERT took the second approach in his opinion piece in the Mercury this week about the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA. The CETA negotiations are complex, not secret, he said. Yet he admits there has been no public discussion about the deal. What there has been in large quantities is rhetoric and repetition of big numbers like $12 billion (the amount our GDP is expected to grow from a deal with Europe, which isn’t that big if you think about it).

Economists on both sides of the Atlantic dispute that number, calling it exaggerated. And a growing number of Canadians and Canadian organizations have picked through leaked copies of the Canada-EU deal to find it desperately slim on benefits for Canada but high on risks.

An impact assessment of the deal conducted for the EU talks about a drop in Canadian manufacturing with job gains going to Europe. It says the deal will encourage privatization of water services and that investment protections would make reversing failed privatizations difficult. The assessment is clear that a procurement agreement will mean more European companies picking up construction and other public contracts that now go to local or Canadian firms.

Other studies from Canadian organizations have shown that CETA will put pressures on Canadian health care by increasing the price of generic drugs. It threatens the Ontario Green Energy Act, which is successfully creating green jobs in the province. The EU wants to dismantle the LCBO through these talks, as well as Ontario’s supply managed dairy system that keeps farmers working and making a living income. All this for a modest potential increase in exports of car parts, nickel and lumber. It’s not worth it.

If Mr. Langrish is not worried about the downside for Canada of a free trade deal with the EU it might be because his salary is paid by multinationals in Europe, Canada and elsewhere, including Monsanto, RioTinto, Alcan, Vale, Siemens and EADS. CETA, like most “free” trade agreements, was written by and for multinationals. It is designed not to boost Canadian exports necessarily, though this is likely the goal of the provinces. CETA is more acurately about reducing the role of governments in managing their economy, creating jobs, and playing an active role in sustainable development.

Surely Canadian trade policy should not rest in the hands of a small group of multinationals but sadly it does. The CETA negotiations need to be opened up to public scrutiny. If trade policy is to serve the people, it needs to be made by the people.

Norah Chaloner ,  for Guelph Chapter, Council of Canadians.

Canada’s closing in on trade deal with Europe

February 02, 2011

Jason Langrish


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