Canada Threatens to Scrap CETA over Tar Sands

February 22nd, 2011

A Reuters article now being carried by the Globe and Mail reports that, “Canada has threatened to scrap a trade deal with the European Union if the EU persists with plans that would block imports of Canada’s highly polluting tar sands, according to documents and sources.” As we have noted in previous campaign blogs, both the Harper government and the Alberta government have taken aim at the European Fuel Quality Directive. A draft version of the directive written by European Union environment officials in 2009 deemed the tar sands to be 20 percent more damaging to the climate than the petroleum typically used to power Europe’s cars. The Harper government has described this directive as a ‘trade barrier’ and linked it to the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.

Reuters adds, “The European Union has already told its fuel suppliers to reduce the carbon footprint of fuels by 6 percent over the next decade, and is now fine-tuning ‘default values’ to help suppliers identify the most carbon-intensive imports. Canada says the standards would instantly constrict a possible future market for its oil sands… ‘Canada has been lobbying the Commission and member states intensively to avoid a separate default value for fuel derived from tar sands,’ said a briefing note prepared by EU officials for climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard. …Last year, the EU appeared to be backing down on tar sands, but sources say negotiators for the 27-member bloc are becoming bolder as their scientific evidence becomes more robust.”

Significantly, “‘(Canada) has raised the (tar sands) issue in the context of EU-Canada negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement,’ adds the note (prepared for the EU climate commissioner), one of several from last year released last week under freedom-of-information laws. Sources said on Monday Canada had gone further, threatening to scrap the free trade deal, which is expected to be agreed later this year. …Canadian officials denied they have threatened to scrap the trade deal, but said they are concerned about how the oil sands oil will be treated under the EU’s fuel directive. ‘Canada and the European Union are working to resolve the issue outside of the negotiations towards a free trade deal,’ International Trade Minister Peter Van Loan said in a statement to Reuters.”

For the past ten months the Council of Canadians has linked the ongoing Canada-EU CETA negotiations with the tar sands. Even though Van Loan now appears to be backtracking, the news this morning that Canada could withdraw from CETA talks because of European support for its Fuel Quality Directive is cause for optimism and for a look back at our work in this area:

May 2, 2010: We first raised this issue in a campaign blog that highlighted – On April 22, the National Post reported that, “Greek lawmaker Kriton Arsenis (has) asked EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to link trade cooperation with Canada to its climate strategy and its use of oil sands.” And, “Seventeen members of the European Parliament (have written) to European climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard urging her to maintain barriers to oil sands in draft EU standards to promote greener fuels. …Canada has already warned the EU that its draft (fuel quality) standards are too unwieldy, will harm the market for its oil sands (and could be seen as a trade barrier)… The EU appears to be yielding to Canadian demands it remove possible barriers to oil sands to avoid further damage to trade ties.” That’s at

July 14: Trade campaigner Stuart Trew, water campaigner Meera Karunananthan and I met with Catherine Bearder, a British MEP with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (which has 85 seats in the European Parliament), who raised questions this past April about CETA and the Canadian tar sands. On April 19, 2010, Ms. Bearder posed these two questions to the European Commission: 1) “How does the Commission propose that trade relations between the EU and Canada should in no way promote or facilitate the development of this highly polluting industry?” 2) “Can the Commission confirm that the EU-Canada FTA will cover trade in this type of oil and how does the Commission justify this in the light of EU environmental priorities?” Ms. Bearder noted to us that MEPs have already been lobbied in Strasbourg (the alternate location of the European Parliament) on the benefits of the tar sands, presumably by industry and the Alberta government. That’s at

July 21: Inter Press Service reported that – “Stuart Trew from the Council of Canadians, a social justice organisation, said a moratorium on the extraction of tar sands is necessary. The eagerness of the Ottawa government to exploit the reserves under Alberta is ‘a blight on Canada’s reputation and on the world,’ he told IPS. …Trew expressed particular concern about how a draft version of the (CETA) trade agreement would — if implemented in its current form — allow corporations to take action against measures that they perceive as hostile to trade. A similar provision in the North America Free Trade Agreement has enabled companies to attack health and environmental measures in the U.S. and Mexico, he added, noting that the procedure lets corporations bypass courts and instead set up private panels. ‘Any attempt to cut back on the production of tar sands, to make stronger environmental rules or to limit the amount of water used to make tar sands could result in a challenge,’ he said.” That’s at

November 5: The Council of Canadians, alongside Indigenous representatives, met with Members of the European Parliament on the issue of the tar sands. Council of Canadians climate justice campaigner Andrea Harden-Donahue, Board member Steven Shrybman, and media officer Dylan Penner were present at the meeting. This meeting was critical because the delegation of MEPs had met with the Alberta government and industry representatives in Edmonton and Fort McMurray earlier in the week and were given a skewed view of the reality of the tar sands. The Edmonton Journal reported, “The Alberta government and industry appear to have won over a group of European Union politicians, who left the province Wednesday saying they plan to push a positive view of the oilsands in debates over new fuel-quality legislation.” …Steven Shrybman spoke about his new legal opinion commissioned by the Council of Canadians and the Indigenous Environmental Network titled, Potential Impacts of the Proposed Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) on the Pace and Character of Oil Sands Development. That’s at

January 6, 2011: Maude Barlow wrote in an op-ed in the Globe and Mail that, “A recent trade sustainability impact assessment commissioned by the European Commission…says the kind of liberalizing trade deal envisioned will lead to increased European investment in the Alberta tar sands, and thus to increased greenhouse gas emissions. Trade lawyer Steven Shrybman has sounded a similar warning in a recent legal opinion, noting that CETA will give corporations the right to ignore or challenge existing or new rules aimed at reducing the current heavy footprint of the tar sands. He posits that the Conservative government sees international trade regimes as an important tool for defeating efforts to address climate change.” That’s at

January 17: The Council of Canadians joined with Canadian allies – the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the National Farmers Union, the Indigenous Environmental Network, ATTAC-Quebec, Alternatives – and European allies – Friends of the Earth Europe, the UK Tar Sands Network, La Via Campesina Europe – in front of the European Commission headquarters in Brussels to denounce the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement and the tar sands. That’s at

January 19: The Council of Canadians work helped to make a European civil society statement against CETA possible. That statement, signed by numerous European groups, says, “Together with European oil companies, Canada has already used CETA talks as an opportunity to lobby against European action that would keep oil derived from Canadian tar sands out of Europe. EU has passed a ‘Fuel Quality Directive’ (FQD), aimed at encouraging the use of low carbon energy products and discouraging the use of high-emission crude oil.” That’s at

January 19: We had a very good two-hour meeting with 6 MEPs and 15 political staff for MEPs from different parliamentary parties on the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. Council of Canadians trade campaigner Stuart Trew facilitated the meeting, Blair Redlin of CUPE spoke to the investor-state provision, Terry Boehm of the National Farmers Union addressed agriculture issues, Clayton Thomas-Muller of the Indigenous Environmental Network presented on the tar sands, and I highlighted CETA and its relationship to water privatization. A very good discussion, and a question and answer session followed. An uninvited Canadian embassy official turned up at the meeting to challenge our comments related to the tar sands and Europe’s fuel quality directive. We easily countered her assertions and were strongly supported by an MEP who raised Canada’s role in killing the second binding phase of the Kyoto protocol at the United Nations climate negotiations this past December in Cancun. At this meeting we handed out numerous copies of Steven Shrybman’s legal opinion on CETA and the tar sands to MEPs and staff. That’s at

January 31: We alerted the UK Tar Sands Network to Alberta energy minister Ron Liepert’s visit to London to promote the tar sands. The UK Tar Sands Network organized a protest at Canada House. Their media release stated, “Unbeknownst to most citizens, the EU and Canada are in the midst of negotiating an ambitious free trade deal (the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA). The Albertan and Canadian governments are trying to use these talks to undermine EU climate policy. Specifically, they are pressuring the EU to water down a key piece of climate legislation (the Fuel Quality Directive, or FQD), calling it an ‘unfair trade barrier’.” Council of Canadians energy campaigner Andrea Harden-Donahue was quoted in their media release. That’s at

February 11: After two Council of Canadians interventions at the European Parliament, Postmedia reported that, “Sealing and oilsands, two issues that have darkened Canada’s image in some sectors of European society, could affect ratification of the proposed Canada-European Union free trade agreement, suggests a report from the House of Commons parliamentary committee on trade.” The news report highlighted that MPs who had visited Europe heard complaints about the tar sands, sealing, and visa restrictions. That’s at

The February 21st Reuters report in the Globe and Mail can be read at

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