Our federal government is negotiating a free trade agreement with the European Union (CETA). This is an all encompassing agreement that covers labour standards, the environment and the ability of provincial and local governments to conduct business.
Unfortunately, the negotiations are taking place behind closed doors – so CETA is not on most people’s radar.
This is not just about trade. There are provisions on the discussion table which could potentially and significantly increase the cost of prescription drugs and take away the power of municipal governments to award building contracts to local firms. CETA could also have a negative effect on public services such as water, waste and public transit.
In addition, similar to NAFTA’s Chapter 11, a clause is proposed that will allow European corporations to sue various levels of government if they feel they have been unjustly treated. (To date, law suits by US multinationals have cost Canadian taxpayers over $13 million since NAFTA was ratified).
Given the stakes, one would think the government would be consulting with all Canadians in an open and transparent process. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
We are a trading nation, with trade representing nearly half of our GDP so we cannot isolate ourselves from the world. However, any trade deals signed should reflect overall benefits for our citizens.
For example, as a result of NAFTA, Canada has lost over 300,000 manufacturing jobs and many fruit and vegetable growers have been forced out of business as a result of cheap subsidized produce crossing the border from Washington State.
We need to ensure that this does not happen with CETA.
The European Union (EU) is a very powerful trading block that has explicitly stated it wants some of our infrastructure dollars. It also provides strong support for its farming sector. For example, there is currently a .5% quota on pork coming into Europe (e.g. .5% of total European production duty free). In Canada, under Supply Management, we have a
7.5% quota for poultry and dairy products. Should Canada increase the dairy quota to 10% and decrease it’s over quota tariffs (which currently protect our dairy farmer), each one stands to lose approximately $70,000.
In addition, the EU is pushing for unrestricted access for its cheese and is also demanding that we respect geographical indicators (e.g. Canadian “cheddar” cheese would no longer be able to be called “cheddar”).
I recently attended a conference of the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) where provincial government officials presented a briefing on the negotiations to date (each province must approve CETA; as a result, they are taking part in the negotiations). Municipal delegates addressing the officials expressed their concern about the impact of CETA on their municipalities in regard to many of the points I have already mentioned.
The challenge before us: How can we continue to explore trade options for our country and at the same time, ensure that our quality of life does not suffer? First and foremost, any trade agreement should be fair and not offer a “blank cheque” to undermine our economy and take away the power of our governments to make decisions on behalf of the citizens they serve.
CETA discussions must involve genuine democratic consultation and not shady back room deals. It is important for our labour movement and civil society to continue their ongoing campaign to expose this agreement and demand answers from the Conservative government.
Canadians deserve a democratic and transparent process.
Alex Atamanenko is the MP for BC Southern Interior.