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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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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