Still time to change the Canada Europe Trade Agreement

Canada was offered one opportunity to review the Canada European Trade Agreement (CETA) earlier this month when Wallonia raised opposition to elements of CETA and threatened not to ratify the deal.  That obstacle was eventually removed and the Belgian region’s parliament ultimately agreed to the deal.  Since then, Canada has signed on to the deal despite pressure from New Democrats to improve the agreement. That said, another window for review may present itself now that activists in the Netherlands have quickly collected two-thirds of the signatures needed to force a referendum on CETA.

If successful, the referendum could overturn Dutch participation in the agreement, which would send everyone back to the drawing board since all 28 EU member states, and a number of regional parliaments, have to agree to the deal in order for it to be enacted.  That could be a good thing as analysts have suggested Canada could have negotiated a much better deal.

Criticisms of trade agreements like the CETA and Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) point out that these deals solidify investor rights at the expense of sovereignty while contributing to corporatization of trade and entrenching the economic divide that finds the vast majority of people on the outside looking in when it comes to economic growth.  Think of the Occupy movement in opposition to the wealth amassed by the top 1%. 

If implemented, the CETA will raise the cost of prescription drugs in Canada, restrict the purchasing authority of local governments, further the deregulation of our postal services, increase the imbalance of auto-sector trade in Europe’s favour, and threaten  our dairy industry. On top of that, any effort to create food sovereignty could be harmed since promoting a buy local program runs counter to the agreement’s procurement obligations.

It is important to note that opposition to the CETA does not equate to opposition to trade.  Rather it focuses on the downfalls of the agreement, and others like it, that entrench investor rights which make it nearly impossible for a country to change the climate under which business is conducted. It will make it virtually impossible to create tougher environmental standards which are a perfect example of how a government can be undermined by investor focussed trade deals.

Under that scenario an investor could sue the federal, provincial/territorial, or even local government for frustrating their opportunity - in this case the opportunity to pollute.  That puts the tax payer on the line to cover the settlement cost and the investor is paid to basically do nothing.  If that sounds crazy, it’s how the NAFTA works and Canada has paid more than $170 million in damages under that agreement.

Proponents of trade deals seem ideological in their defence of the outcomes, but there is no denying that since these agreements became the norm we have witnessed the demise of our manufacturing sector which has shrunk the ranks of the middle class, constantly declining corporate tax contributions, and the ballooning of wealth amongst the wealthiest few.  Instead of ignoring the legitimate concerns shared by millions of Europeans and Canadians‎, the NDP is urging the government to seize this opportunity to address the problems with CETA and make it work for more Canadians.