Canadian Dimension: Unpacking CETA

Photo by Mehr Demokratie The Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), like other looming mega-treaties, is a comprehensive vehicle for expanding the scope of transnational investment by rolling back the capacity of governments to regulate in the public interest. The attack on democratic governance is not restricted to the

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Politics and its Discontents: CETA – A Threat We Should All Be Aware Of

A recent post I wrote contrasted the apparent indifference/ignorance of Canadians toward CETA with the furious involvement of the Europeans, most recently the Germans, in open protest against the deal. It is a pact that will see even greater erosion of our ability to enact strong legislation to protect labour, the environment and a host of other realms thanks to the Investor State Dispute Settlement provisions that protect multinationals at the expense of citizens. It will further undermine our increasingly fragile sovereign rights.

And sadly, it is a deal the the Trudeau Liberals are avidly embracing.

Scott Sincleair and Stuart Trew write a trenchant reminder of CETA’s dangers:

Much more than a trade deal, CETA is a sweeping constitution-style document that will restrict public policy options in areas as diverse as intellectual property rights, government procurement, food safety and environmental protection, financial regulation, the temporary movement of workers, and public services.

My previous post noted the weak language governing some of the above, including platitudes like commitments to cooperate, provisions encouraging Canada and the EU to continue developing our resources in a way that is environmentally sustainable, establishes shared commitments to promote trade in a way that contributes to the objectives of sustainable development in Canada and the EU, etc.

All part and parcel of what Liberal International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland calls “a gold-plated trade deal.”

As Sincleair and Trew observe,

While CETA’s safeguards for labour and the environment are mainly voluntary and weak, the investor protections are strong and fully enforceable. Such an agreement could only be considered enlightened in an upside-down world.

The devolution of our sovereignty began long before CETA, however.

Canada’s experience with investor-state arbitration under NAFTA is pitiful. We are the most-sued NAFTA party despite our highly developed legal system and strong protections for private property. Many of these challenges involve environmental protection policies that were legally enacted, but which upset an investor’s plans or profits.

Just last year, Canada lost a disturbing NAFTA dispute over an environmental assessment that recommended against a massive quarry in an ecologically sensitive part of Nova Scotia. Canada currently faces a raft of claims as a result of progressive policies, such as banning natural gas fracking in the province of Quebec.

The pending deal promises more of the same, a source of puzzlement to European progressives:

European labour unions, environmentalists and human rights advocates question why Canada and the EU would want to expand this anti-democratic process through CETA. Despite being rebranded as an “investment court system” with pretenses to judicial independence, the substantive protections afforded to foreign investors remain largely intact. This will expose taxpayers in both Canada and the EU to huge financial liabilities and have a chilling effect on future progressive public policy.

European progressives are also asking important questions about the interplay between CETA and public services. CETA contains no clear protections for governments hoping to expand public services into areas where there is currently private sector competition, or to bring previously privatized services back under public control. Doing so can actually trigger foreign investor claims for compensation, effectively locking in privatization.

All the warning signs are there. Whether the vast majority of Canadians can rouse themselves enough to care is an open question.

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Canadian Dimension: Arundhati Roy Confronts the Tyranny of the Free Market

Photo by jeanbaptisteparis

Perhaps the most revealing words on the topic of globalization in recent years came not from the pen of Thomas Piketty, nor were they written by Robert Reich or Joseph Stiglitz or Paul Krugman — rather, they can be found in the pages of The Lexus and the Olive Tree, written by the notorious New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

“The hidden hand of the market,” Friedman notes in a particularly telling fragment, “will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglass, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps.”

Friedman isn’t known for his subtlety or sincerity, but the above passage strikes at a crucial truth. So much so, in fact, that Arundhati Roy christened it “the most succinct, accurate description of the project of corporate globalization that I have read.”

Roy first made waves internationally with her novel The God of Small Things, published in 1997 — it was an instant hit, selling millions of copies and propelling the relatively obscure writer into stardom. The fame, as she would later recount, was overwhelming; her picture appeared in prominent magazines and she was sought out by mainstream outlets as an established literary voice.

Such acclaim among the upper classes and elite sectors of society both abroad and in India, her home country, would soon become less cheery, however.

In the year following her debut novel’s appearance, Roy wrote a scathing essay condemning the Indian government’s nuclear test, the nation’s second since 1974. The test featured, as CNN reported at the time, “two big explosions, including a thermonuclear ‘hydrogen bomb’ explosion, and three smaller blasts involving a nuclear yield of below one kiloton.”

Roy’s essay, titled “The End of Imagination,” made waves of an entirely different nature than those triggered by The God of Small Things. Fervent nationalism was on the rise in India in the 1990s, and Roy staked out a position against this trend, arguing that the mere existence of nuclear weapons is a sign not of national strength, but of “supreme folly.”

“The fact that they exist at all, their very presence in our lives, will wreak more havoc than we can begin to fathom,” she wrote. “Nuclear weapons pervade our thinking. Control our behavior. Administer our societies. Inform our dreams. They bury themselves like meat hooks deep in the base of our brains. They are purveyors of madness.”

Thus began Roy’s foray into national, and global, politics, a foray motivated, at least in part, by a sense of obligation.

“If I had not said anything about the nuclear tests, it would have been as if I was celebrating it,” Roy told the New York Times. “I was on the covers of all these magazines all the time. Not saying anything became as political as saying something.”

Over the next several years, Roy would become an established voice of dissent at home, as well as a fierce critic of the world’s imperial powers — or, more accurately, power, the United States. And while it may seem as though these critiques occupy separate terrains, they always coalesce.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in The End of Imagination, a collection of Roy’s essays released earlier this month. Ever-present — whether stated outright or in narrative form — is an unblinking confrontation of the scourge of imperialism and of the devastation brought about by the forced imposition of so-called free market principles. And as Roy frequently urges us to remember, these two prominent features of the global political and economic landscape are deeply interconnected.

Sometimes, the objectives of empire are expressed in terms as frank as Thomas Friedman’s description of the project of global capitalism.

“I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people,” said Henry Kissinger, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, the same year, incidentally, that the CIA participated in the violent subversion of Chilean democracy, which resulted in the death of the country’s elected leader, Salvador Allende.

The coup prompted a reign of terror; it also presented, in stark terms, a rebuke to those who insisted (and still insist) that capitalism is a guarantor of freedom. In fact, as Roy often notes, capitalism and its purveyors have frequently been explicit opponents of freedom. The core project of the disciples of the “free market” is to subordinate society to the needs of the investors. If civil liberties must be curtailed, if democracy must be crushed, if war must be waged, so be it.

“The men in suits are in an unseemly hurry,” Roy wrote in an essay adapted from a speech she gave in Santa Fe, New Mexico, one week after the first anniversary of the attacks of September 11. “While bombs rain down on us and cruise missiles skid across the skies, while nuclear weapons are stockpiled to make the world a safer place, contracts are being signed, patents are being registered, oil pipelines are being laid, natural resources are being plundered, water is being privatized, and democracies are being undermined.”

The “free market” is, to use Karl Polanyi’s term, a “stark Utopia”: It is a construct peddled by those who insist upon the belief that the accumulation of wealth and resources at the very top is a natural phenomenon, one dictated by the immutable laws of the universe.

Furthermore, it is designed to provide a smokescreen for those who, in conjunction with their allies in government, write the rules of global trade and investment, tipping the scale in their favor.

“Multinational corporations on the prowl for sweetheart deals that yield enormous profits cannot push through those deals and administer those projects in developing countries without the active connivance of state machinery — the police, the courts, sometimes even the army,” Roy observes.

Meanwhile, she continues, “the ‘structural adjustment’ end of the corporate globalization project is ripping through people’s lives. ‘Development’ projects, massive privatization, and labor ‘reforms’ are pushing people off their lands and out of their jobs, resulting in a kind of barbaric dispossession that has few parallels in history.”

We are told the world is being made “safe for democracy,” a trope that dates back to the days of the First World War. But “democracy,” in elite-speak, is code for capitalism.

“Across the world,” Roy writes, “as the free market brazenly protects Western markets and forces developing countries to lift their trade barriers, the poor are getting poorer and the rich richer.”

A fist has, of course, always been behind the market’s “invisible” hand. And whether in Iran in 1953 or Guatemala in 1954, whether in Vietnam or Iraq or the Dominican Republic, the fist often takes the lead role, smashing disobedient nations into submission, forcefully prying open previously closed markets, shaping the world in such a way that is amenable to the needs of the profit-seekers and the already powerful.

The resulting consolidation of wealth is astonishing to behold. Each year, the remarkable achievements of the global elite are celebrated in Davos, Switzerland. And each year, Oxfam publishes a report detailing these achievements.

In 2013, Oxfam estimated that the income of the world’s “richest 100 billionaires would be enough” to eradicate extreme poverty “four times over.” A year later, little had changed: “Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population,” the organization announced. A pattern is emerging. What about 2015? The world’s billionaires have it all, Oxfam told us, and they still want more.

Then there was the dutiful 2016 report, which featured many striking but unsurprising facts, like this one: “Runaway inequality has created a world where 62 people own as much wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population.”

The neoliberal period has been defined by these trends, and whatever critiques of the foundations of global capitalism that remained within mainstream political discourse have been decisively erased or confined to the margins. And, as Roy masterfully documents in her 2014 book Capitalism: A Ghost Story, massive corporations have taken to co-opting the heroes of progressive movements for their own purposes.

“Martin Luther King Jr. made the forbidden connections between Capitalism, Imperialism, Racism, and the Vietnam War,” Roy notes. “As a result, after he was assassinated even his memory became toxic, a threat to public order. Foundations and corporations worked hard to remodel his legacy to fit a market-friendly format.”

The Ford Motor Company — in partnership with Monsanto, General Motors, Procter and Gamble, and other corporate giants — helped set up and bankroll the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, which has coordinated with the U.S. Department of Defense and has run events with such titles as “The Free Enterprise System: An Agent for Nonviolent Social Change.” To call such a headline insulting to Dr. King’s legacy would be to vastly understate the case.

Similar examples of the corporatization of social justice abound. Thanks to tremendous reporting by Slate’s Maria Hengeveld, we have learned of the brutality with which Nike exploits its female factory workers — who face very credible threats of violence if they dare to speak out against their conditions — while simultaneously leading a campaign ostensibly dedicated to the empowerment of women.

As the interests of the state increasingly merge with the interests of business, the potential for change is further undercut; democratic institutions no longer function, as they are held hostage by various interest groups whose aims are fundamentally at odds with those of the public.

All of this, Roy contends, is perfectly predictable, given the concentration of power and resources. The effects of such a state of affairs are global — and existential.

The planet is faltering in the face of relentless corporate plunder; business is tightening its stranglehold on public policy; and violence, whether committed by state or non-state actors, is spreading.

Sunday marked another anniversary of the horrific attacks of September 11. Combat missions continue in Afghanistan and Iraq, and, with little oversight, they have spilled over into Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya — a cause for celebration for the world’s weapons manufacturers.

Global business is also coalescing in support of the next big “trade” agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which, if passed, will grant multinational corporations unprecedented power. Heads of state are happy to play along, even to present the agreement as a step in the right direction for the working class.

The global poor are kept out of the negotiations, their needs apparently of little concern compared to those of the business class. So the plunder, the exploitation, the war, and the occupation continues.

But whether she is writing of Kashmir or of the Palestinians, of American foreign policy or of terror in the Middle East, of environmental degradation or of the threat posed by nuclear proliferation, Roy maintains a sense of hope, one that jumps from the page even in the midst of her devastating polemics.

Her hope, thankfully, is not contingent upon a leap of faith. There is supporting evidence, if one is willing to look closely enough.

Globally, resistance to the tyranny imposed by free market capitalism and its evangelists is burgeoning. In India, millions of workers took to the streets to protest privatization and austerity and to call for higher wages. Anti-TPP protests are spreading; in the United States, opposition to big oil is intensifying.

The public recognizes what is happening to them and their families, to their communities. They increasingly understand that “electoral democracy has become a process of cynical manipulation.”

“The crisis in modern democracy is a profound one,” Roy notes. “Free elections, a free press, and an independent judiciary mean little when the free market has reduced them to commodities available on sale to the highest bidder.”

Nasty, violent, and fascist groups and individuals will surely emerge from such circumstances. But a movement valuing solidarity, mutual aid, peace, and democracy can also thrive, with enough time, effort, and imagination.

Roy’s own prediction is cautious, but it leans in the direction of optimism.

“The urge for hegemony and preponderance by some will be matched with greater intensity by the longing for dignity and justice by others. Exactly what form that battle takes, whether it’s beautiful or bloodthirsty, depends on us.”

Jake Johnson is an independent writer. Follow him on Twitter: @wordsofdissent.

This article originally appeared on

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Politics and its Discontents: UPDATED: Thank You, Germans, For Fighting What Should Also Be Our Battle

While Canadians by and large seem content to sleep through the entire CETA negotiations, uttering nary an objection to a deal that will severely compromise our sovereignty, ordinary Germans are turning out en masse to protest its dangers:

Demonstrators took to the streets of Berlin and six other German cities Saturday to voice their displeasure with pending trade deals, one between the European Union and Canada and another with the U.S.

The treaties they’re concerned with are the yet-to-be ratified EU pact with Canada, known as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), and the EU’s Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) [the Canadian version is called the Trans Pacific Partnership, but carries essentially the same perils] deal with the U.S. that is still being negotiated.

While the deal between the EU and Canada has escaped the same scale of criticism and widespread outrage among the Canadian public, it continues to be a hot button political issue in Germany and one that protesters are hoping to stop from being ratified sometime in the fall.

In broad terms the critics say that CETA would give multinational corporations too much power within European Union markets and they object to a dispute resolution mechanism that has been proposed in the framework agreement.

This dispute resolution mechanism would allow companies to bypass national courts in both countries, allowing then to argue their cases in front of international arbitration panels instead.

Despite the fact that we have access to the same information about the dangers of these free-trade deals, few seem upset by the unbridled enthusiasm that both Justin Trudeau and his poodle Chrystia Freeland profess for them:

Despite Freeland’s rhapsodic recitation of the improvements that have been made in the CETA deal, a quick check of the facts reveals something quite different, unless motherhood statements and feel-good empty rhetoric are your thing. I would encourage you to read about these ‘improvements’ yourself under the pertinent sections, but here are a few highlights:

Dispute Settlement

CETA includes a more robust voluntary mediation mechanism than has been included in Canada’s previous trade agreements. Mediation is a cost-effective and expeditious way to resolve disputes without the need for a third party to decide the outcome. When parties choose arbitration rather than mediation, CETA improves on the WTO dispute settlement mechanism by streamlining and shortening the process. In addition, CETA includes an accelerated arbitration procedure for cases requiring urgent resolution, such as those involving live animals and perishable or seasonal foods.

So in other words, the great improvements Freeland was extolling have nothing to do with changing what might come under dispute, such as environmental and labour laws, but only offers a faster and potentially cheaper way to resolve conflicts. There is nothing that protects our national sovereignty here, nothing that prevents the signatories from suing governments that enact legislation that may hamper the profits of corporations.

Similarly, the language dealing with labour, environment and sustainable development are peppered with platitudes like commitments to cooperate, provisions encouraging Canada and the EU to continue developing our resources in a way that is environmentally sustainable, establishes shared commitments to promote trade in a way that contributes to the objectives of sustainable development in Canada and the EU, etc.

All in all, empty language that enables the Trudeau government to lie to Canada’s citizens. But at least our Prime Minister has a nice smile, perhaps something to dream about as we continue our long, collective snooze.

UPDATE: Be sure you read Owen’s excellent post today on Investor State Dispute Settlement Mechanisms.

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Politics and its Discontents: Trudeau Has Some Explaining To Do

While our ‘new’ government continues upon the Harper neoliberal path, apparently never having met a free trade agreement it doesn’t like, one issue that never seems to be honestly addressed by either Mr. Trudeau or his most ardent acolyte, Chrystia Freeland, is the Investor-State Dispute Settlement provisions.

Thanks to always astute Toronto Star readers, this contentious issue is being kept in the public forum.

It seems if we look behind Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ‎”sunny ways” persona, we find he is perpetuating the agenda of the Harper government.

The hearings and meetings being held across the country are a sham, as the PM’s G20 remarks on European trade and the Trans Pacific Partnership ‎show the Liberal government is right in line with the Harper regime, promoting flawed so-called trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Consultation with Canadians on the TPP has consistently raised concerns and objections over the same issue that concerns Europeans – the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clauses that give corporations power above that of the federal government and bypass our judicial court system‎.

The PM states that Canadians are largely supportive of international trade, but, like Stephen Harper’s omnibus bills that contained lots of hidden, usually objectionable, legislation, the TPP is only partly concerned with trade.

Justin Trudeau seems intent on ignoring Canadians concerns over increased corporate powers as well as the relatively toothless and unequal protections the TPP offers for workers’ rights and the environment‎.

He misleads Canadians by characterizing those who are opposed to the “hidden” aspects of the TPP (and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA) as being “anti-trade.”

In this respect, he is simply following in Stephen Harper’s shoes, albeit with a sunnier disposition, placing corporate interests above those of the Canadian people.

Terry Kushnier, Scarborough

What is missing in this news report is that most people, in fact most Americans as well as Canadians, are not against the enhancement of international trade. They are against the dispute settlement mechanism (ISDS) that is included in most trade agreements, which requires dispute settlement by non-governmental arbitration panels.

Historically these are loaded toward corporations that sue sovereign governments, which are legislating on behalf of their citizens. Abuse of this system abounds, for example tobacco companies suing Uruguay for loss of income due to anti-smoking campaigns. They lost that one in the end but the inhibition of social (and environmental and labour) programs, and the cost to governments in worrying about and fighting such “disputes” so that corporations can do international business unfettered, is inexcusable. Much of the opposition to recent draft trade agreements such as CETA by social democratic countries in Europe is for this reason.

Roger H. Green, Brighton

Apparently, Justin Trudeau is going to continue the foolish initiative of Stephen Harper and grant investor protection rights to powerful corporations in order to sign CETA, the Canada-Europe trade deal. These rights would allow foreign companies to sue the Canadian taxpayers for billions of dollars if our elected Parliament passes laws regarding, for example, the environment, health or financial regulations, that adversely effect their bottom lines.

What twisted ideology would inspire any thoughtful politician to undermine our democracy in this way? That Justin would even consider this trade-off is proof that corporations already possess too much power. And these are the same corporations that protect billions of dollars through tax avoidance and evasion.

Stop this madness. Mr. Trudeau, please refuse to sign any trade deal that would erode our sovereign rights.

Cliff Lelievre, Burlington

In addition to the above letters, there is a wealth of information readily available demonstrating the folly of embracing deals that elevate corporations over citizens. What happens next is up to all of us.

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