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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Canadians will pay for Harper’s hoped-for trade deals


What we know can hurt us — CETA and TPP will export Canadian jobs and resources.

by Ish Theilheimer
Most Canadians don't know it, but they're probably about to be whacked by new corporate trade deals with the same job-stealing effects and dubious benefits as their predecessor deals. By now, most Canadians how these deals work. Foreign investors get Canadian resource rights or procurement rights, and thousands of jobs go away to low-wage, anti-union jurisdictions on this continent and others.
This is the basic premise of most corporate trade deals. Rights to domestic policies such as job creation, agricultural quotas or environmental protection are offered up in return for easier access to some markets for some products. Harper, of course, wants money for resource extraction and unfettered export markets, and he has no objection to any deal that undermines domestic regulations and protective services. Indeed, he thinks that kind of thing is great.
So while most Canadians are blissfully unaware, two massive deals are lumbering toward us with potentially terrible consequences.
CETA would block options to boost exports of more sophisticated, value-added goods, forcing the province to rely on non-renewable resource exports. At the current rate of extraction, Ontario could exhaust its gold reserves within a decade.
After years of lobbying, Harper got Canada into negotiations over the proposed, top-secret Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). It's so secret, that, according to former US politician turned publisher William A Collins in his column The High Cost of Free Trade  not even members of Congress get to see the drafts.
The agreement, he says, "Has a lot to say about worker rights and environmental protections. This pact… comes out squarely against them."
"Like most other global trade deals, the true purpose of this so-called 'partnership' is to 'free' corporations from government rules, particularly those aimed at protecting us all from devastating pollution, barbaric working conditions, consumer fraud, and other forms of corporate abuse."
Leaks suggest Canadian agriculture, investment, intellectual property and culture protection rules are at risk in TPP talks. Like Collins, Internet law professor Michael Geist, writing in TheTyee.ca, is alarmed by the secrecy surrounding the talks. "While the substance of the TPP is cause for concern, the more immediate issue is the lack of transparency associated with both the negotiations and Canada's participation in them. The talks remain shrouded in secrecy, with a draft text that is confidential; public interest groups are largely banned from the venue where the negotiations are being held."
At the same time, Canadian negotiators are pressing to tie up loose ends in the European trade deal (the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement or CETA), which Harper has pursued since 2008. This deal, which would open up some new markets for Canadian pork products and other goods, will give up more than most Canadians would feel such gains are worth.
The CETA deal "will put Canada's progressive procurement policies at serious risk," writes NDP MP Alex Atamenenko.  "This means that sub-national governments (municipalities and provinces) will no longer be allowed to give preference to local businesses when contracting for work, services or goods.  Governments at all levels will lose a valuable tool for protecting the environment, creating long-term employment, and helping marginalized groups.   In other words, European companies will be given equal consideration when bidding on local government contracts."
Farmers, he says, will affected because CETA will require Canada to implement the UPOV’91 (the industry's Union for the Protection of New Varieties) version of plant breeders' rights (PBR) which would virtually eliminate farmers' rights to save, re-use and sell seed.  CETA also includes additional intellectual property protection that will give seed companies the power to seize crops, farms and seeding and harvest equipment and freeze bank accounts if companies suspect infringement on a company’s seed rights by a farmer."
Canada's manufacturing sector would be hard hit, according to John Jacobs . "CETA locks trade partners into their current pattern, which is imbalanced," he wrote, in a report for  the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA)  "It would box Ontario into exporting non-renewable resources such as gold, nickel and uranium  privileging EU's current dominance of value-added exports to Ontario and leaving the province in a virtual straightjacket while bleeding jobs."
CETA would block options to boost exports of more sophisticated, value-added goods, forcing the province to rely on non-renewable resource exports, which have a finite future. At the current rate of extraction, Ontario could exhaust its gold reserves within a decade.
At the heart of CETA, the EU is demanding changes to patent laws and intellectual property rights. These could cost Canadians at the drug store, with studies projecting Canadians' drug costs could rise by $2.8 billion a year if the EU gets its way — longer patent protection for pharmaceuticals, making generic drugs less available.
Trade negotiations, for most people, go into the same category as nuclear physics and filling out tax forms. They're over our heads. We don't really want to know. But what we don't know can hurt us. After twenty five years of deals tilting the board in favour of corporate job bandits, we do know, and we should do what we can to raise the alarm

About Ish Theilheimer


Ish Theilheimer is founder and president of Straight Goods News and has been Publisher of the leading, and oldest, independent Canadian online newsmagazine, StraightGoods.ca, since September 1999. He is also Managing Editor of PublicValues.ca. He lives wth his wife Kathy in Golden Lake, ON, in the Ottawa Valley.
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