#CETA protested in Ottawa, Sept 26, 2014

Photo from Council of Canadians Facebook 
The Council of Canadians, and numerous other groups like the Seafarers International Union (SIU), Campact, CUPE, CUPW, RQIC and numerous others marched in Ottawa Sept 26, 2014, to speak out against the Canada-EU summit taking place in Ottawa today to mark the so-called completion of the negotiations for the CETA 'free trade' agreement. Citizens Against CETA stands in solidarity with the grassroots mobilization against CETA.

Photo from Council of Canadians Facebook 
With around 300 people gathering on Parliament the event showed that there is widespread doubt and misgivings around the so-called benefits of CETA. Yesterday Germany effectively put the CETA trade deal on hold over investor-state lawsuit provisions that would allow corporations to sue countries. 

The European Commission has said if the deal were to be reopened at this point that it would be effectively dead.  
So while Harper may want to trumpet his 'accomplishment' of securing a free trade agreement with Europe, the reality is that governmental and public opposition is only growing and CETA faces an uphill battle to be ratified over the next 2+ years.  
The Council of Canadians has been campaigning to derail CETA since 2009 and remains committed to working with allies both in Canada and Europe to defeat this dangerous deal.
Together in solidarity we can stop CETA!  

Photo from Council of Canadians Facebook 
Watch comedian Scott Vrooman criticize investor protection clauses, which allow corporations to sue governments for lost profits.

#CETA, temporary workers, and the attack on middle class jobs

Originally published The Independent

On Thursday the German media leaked a substantial portion of the Canada-European Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) text. There were some surprises. In particular, there is a section in the “Cross Border Trading in Services” chapter that makes the federal government’s Temporary Foreign Workers program, which gleaned so much negative publicity a few months back, look like an appetizer.

“This Chapter reflects the preferential trading relationship between the Parties as well as the natural objective to facilitate trade in services and investment by allowing temporary entry and stay to natural persons for business purposes…..” (Article 1.1 Chapter X, CETA leaked document)

Unlike many European countries, the federal government appears to have chosen not to write in reservations or restrictions to this clause. That decision means that, at the federal level, the right to set entry quotas in order to give preference to Canadian workers during times of high employment has been forfeited.

Temporary work permits can be issued to Europeans for a year with the possibility of an extension of two years. Potential workers must hold a university degree or its equivalent. With that qualification, they can enter the country, either as employees of a European corporation doing contract work in Canada, or as independent, self-employed professionals that have secured contract work here. Sectors of the economy that will be open to them include: legal, architectural, engineering, computing, research and development, market research, management consulting, mining, higher education, and much more

Read more on TheIndependent.ca: http://theindependent.ca/2014/08/19/ceta-temporary-workers-and-the-attack-on-middle-class-jobs/

#CETA text leaked by German TV

Via the Council of Canadians

The Council of Canadians is pleased that the Canada-EU trade deal, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), has seen the light of day after German television show Tagesschau provided the full text online this afternoon.
  • This text (and earlier versions of it) should have been made public to give the public the appropriate amount of time to read it, discern its contents and comment on it fully. The whole CETA negotiation process has been undemocratic, and has failed in terms of transparency.
  • The 25-page investor-state section appears to be a standard investor-state dispute settlement: a three-person panel that would make decisions rather than the mature court systems. This probably will not placate Germany.
  • The 30-page procurement section appears to give no consideration to the numerous Canadian municipalities that requested to be exempted from its provisions.
  • The EU language was adopted on resolution of pharmaceutical patent disputes. This will open the flood gates to pharmaceutical companies’ law suits. This will lengthen patent lengths and delay generics coming to market. In the end, this could severely increase public health care costs by $900 million to $1.7 billion.

“Throughout the process, this agreement and its devastating impacts have been kept locked away from legislators and the public, shielded from a democratic process. Finally, it comes to light, probably because people in Germany are fed up with the secrecy and fed up with being taken hostage by companies,” says Maude Barlow, Council of Canadians national chairperson.

Read the leaked text here: 

Coverage in the Huffington Post: 

Germany rejects CETA and TTIP

via the Council of Canadians

The Council of Canadians applauds Germany's rejection of the Canada-EU and EU-US trade deals reported in Reuters today. The German government decided to reject these trade deals because of provisions that allow companies to sue governments for infringing on their profits.
"This is a victory for democracy. We are pleased that the German government has listened to critics of the investor-state dispute settlement provisions of the deal that give foreign corporations the right to dictate domestic policy," said Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians.
"We've worked to educate European politicians on just how harmful allowing companies to sue you can be," said Scott Harris, trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians. "We've told them about all the lawsuits Canada has faced under NAFTA for legitimate regulations that protect our health and environment."

[webinar] CETA's investment chapter: Where do the negotiations stand?

One of the most contentious issues in the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic & Trade Agreement (CETA) negotiations is the inclusion in these deals of broad investor rights backed up by an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) process.

Like NAFTA’s Chapter 11, ISDS clauses would allow foreign corporations to directly sue governments over regulations and policies put in place that supposedly violate “fair and equitable treatment” or are seen by corporations as “indirect expropriation.” Inclusion of ISDS in the US-EU TTIP agreement has been met with such widespread opposition in Europe that the European Commission has halted negotiations on ISDS in the agreement while a three-month EU-wide consultation takes place.

This Council of Canadians webinar (click here for the link) featuring the International Institute for Sustainable Development’s Senior Law Advisor Howard Mann, presents an analysis based on the latest leaks of the CETA Investment Chapter and Investor-State Dispute Settlement Chapter, and the implications CETA’s investment and ISDS chapters might have on public interest regulations and policy in Canada if CETA is finalized and ratified.

There are good reasons to oppose Trade Deals

Wednesday’s editorial (“Whew! That’s over”) included two quotes from the recent NDP convention: “Nothing good happens when big business takes over things …,” and “CETA and evil have both got four letters, and to me they’re both the same thing.”

Not having attended the convention, I don’t know where the quotes came from, nor what the supporting arguments were. However, I take issue with two of The Telegram’s conclusions.
“Politics is about forging a middle ground, one that isn’t going to scare off either end of the spectrum.” Unfortunately, the middle ground in politics today bears little resemblance to how we governed ourselves 50 years ago. Green Party leader Elizabeth May perhaps summed it up best in an interview with the McGill Reporter.
“It’s arguable that we now live in a dictatorship, punctuated by manipulated elections. The symptoms of the problem are easy to spot — low voter turnout, with worryingly low levels among young people with no sign they will start voting once they are over 30, a less than vital Fourth Estate, undermined by an alarming level of concentration of media ownership in very few hands, public apathy, indifference bordering on antipathy toward the whole process, excessive power in the hands of the few (or the one, since I refer to PMO), a loss of respect for the fundamental principle of the supremacy of Parliament, misuse of the talents of members of Parliament of the large parties, as MPs are expected to toe the party line on every issue, big and small, and its flip-side, excessive control by the unelected top party brass in all three main parties.”
May’s conclusions are very much in line with what is happening elsewhere. A recent study by Gillens and Page of Princeton and Northwestern Universities concluded that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”
Nowhere is this erosion of democracy more evident than in the way we negotiate trade agreements. It’s not just that concerned civil society groups are denied any kind of access to what is being negotiated. So, too, are our elected MPs and MHAs.
Meanwhile, transnational corporations are working hand in hand with our negotiators to ensure that their interests are taken care of. That’s been true with CETA, the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) which we’re negotiating with 11 countries and probably to the little known but alarming Trade and Services Agreement (TISA) which includes 23 countries representing 50 countries.
Trade agreements tend to build on the ones before them, so that any protections for public services or regulatory capacity achieved in a specific agreement become targets for elimination in the next one. The common thread throughout is an agenda skewed towards global corporate interests and the super-rich elites behind them.
The solution is not, as The Telegram’s editorial suggests, “a little more scrutiny and oversight” of trade deals. We need a full discussion of how this generation’s treaties have evolved into constitutional-style documents that constrain governments, and in ways that are only loosely related to trade. We need to talk about how government and the mainstream media stifle debate by typecasting those of us who oppose the agenda of these new trade agreements as being anti-trade in general.
The latter was subtly evident in your editorial reference to the “Business-is-evil old guard” of the NDP. Those of us who oppose CETA, the TPP and TISA are not against trade agreements or business. But we are against trade agreements that erode democratic rights and hand over power to huge transnational corporations that concentrate wealth in the hands of offshore elites. We believe that a healthy democracy must include strong, vibrant, small- and medium-size businesses. They are a disappearing breed, and trade agreements — contrary to the rhetoric — rarely benefit them.
Perhaps that’s what the discussion was about at the NDP convention.

10 Reasons why we should be concerned about 21st century trade agreements

Corporate Europe Observatory has just released a report outlining serious problems surrounding trade agreements that the media never talks about. Click here to read the details.
    1. ISDS is a tool for big business to make governments pay when they regulate

    2. The investor-state arbitration system is fundamentally flawed.

    3.  Corporate super-rights are an instrument to rein in democracy..

    4. The investor rights provide VIP treatment to companies.

    5. The Commission’s ‘reform’ agenda does not even touch upon these basic flaws of the system.

    6. The risks of being sued by big business are ever growing for governments.

    7. The investor privileges enable backdoor corporate attacks on court decisions.

    8. The investor rights do not bring the economic benefits claimed for them.

    9. The global tide is turning against excessive corporate rights.

    10. There are alternatives.


"Players, absentees and spectators in the CETA ambush"

**The final part of Cutting Through the Spin on CETA, originally published in the Independent.

Who supports the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, and why? Who might have opposed it, but hasn’t? Are there prospects for stopping it? 

Persuading the average Canadian to take a closer look at the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) is an uphill challenge, partly because people are skeptical about how damaging a trade agreement can actually be. Tariffs and quotas, imports and exports – where’s the deep menace in that?

Of course, readers who have persevered through my last four articles in this series on CETA know the menace is hidden behind the rhetoric about trade. The devil is in the details, and the details are not being discussed by government.

What about the agreement offends those who most oppose CETA? Is it the deliberate inclusion of  the “most favoured nation” and “fair and equitable treatment” provisions in CETA that will allow corporate investors to use language from other treaties to ambush governments’ possible attempts to protect themselves? Is it the offshore private tribunals riddled with conflict of interest that will effectively allow corporate lawsuits against government to bypass our own judicial system? Is it the biased negotiating process that has excluded civil society groups but welcomed input from the corporate sector? Or is it that we have a government in Ottawa that has not only allowed, but enthusiastically supported, all of the above?

Who supports CETA?

From the beginning the transnational corporations have pushed for CETA. In Europe, the big players are the pharmaceutical companies, along with water and waste water service delivery corporations. The Europeans have also targeted energy delivery as a service area of interest. Indeed, according to the European Commission, “50% of the total expected gains for the EU are related to trade in services.”
In Canada, support for CETA also comes primarily from global corporations. The agribusiness sector is hoping the agreement will breach European resistance to North America’s genetically modified crops, and to cattle and beef dosed with the drug ractopamine. Our Canadian mining companies love trade agreements because they can use the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism, with its offshore tribunals, to sue countries who oppose or try to regulate their practices. Then there are our financial corporations – the banks and insurance companies. They don’t need CETA to gain access to Europe because they are already there, big time. One presumes they support CETA because they’ve allied themselves with the increasingly offshore, corporate, financial world that fuels globalization.

So too, it seems, has our Canadian government. Did you know it was Canada, not an initially reluctant European Union, that pushed for the inclusion of the ISDS section in CETA? That our provincial and territorial governments have gone along with all this is puzzling, given the limited benefits CETA will bring them, and the increased risk of lawsuits they will face.

Also troubling, of course, is the performance of our two main federal opposition parties. The Liberals have indicated they are “broadly supportive of CETA,” while the NDP originally said they would not support any trade agreement with an ISDS mechanism but appear to have backed off from that position. According to the Globe and Mail, “the NDP’s position is now that it ‘welcomes’ the deal but is staying neutral until a final text is released in a few months.”

Prime Minister Harper must be delighted with the response of the NDP and Liberals, especially since almost all of the political debate around CETA has focused on trade issues to the exclusion of the real elephant in the room: the assault on our legislative and judicial sovereignty. You have to wonder how many of our MPs and MHAs have taken the time to read the leaked documents or consult with experts who could interpret them.

In Europe the situation is slightly different. The driving force behind CETA has been the European Commission – the bureaucrats in Brussels. The European Parliament has been much more ambivalent and uneasy, in particular about the ISDS mechanism. It remains to be seen whether they will pass CETA in the agreement’s present state.

Our disengaged intelligentsia

Disappointing and surprising is the apparent absence of analysis or public debate about CETA among academics. To be fair, the Canadian Association of University Teachers has joined the Trade Justice Network in opposing CETA’s investment rights and investor-state dispute mechanism. There are, as well, individual professors vocally opposing CETA, most notably law professors Michael Geist of the University of Ottawa and Gus Van Harten of Osgoode Hall Law School at York University. Their contributions to informed debate about CETA have been invaluable.

On the other hand, the response to CETA from within the university community has been, well, overwhemingly non-existent. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the business schools, economics and political science departments across the country. The very people you would expect and want to add their expertise to the debate either say nothing or choose to talk only about narrow trade aspects of the agreement. There seems to be reluctance on campuses to analyze concerns about the implications of the investment chapter and the ISDS mechanism.

Where do we go from here?

For groups like the Council of Canadians, the Trade Justice Network and Citizens against CETA here in Newfoundland, opposing CETA has often been a lonely and frustrating journey. The implications of the treaty are rarely analyzed or scrutinizes by the corporate press. The result is that, after almost five years of negotiations, most Canadians still know almost nothing about this agreement. Consequently, if the Europeans okay CETA, this treaty will quickly become law in Canada with barely a whimper from the public. Two things could prevent this outcome:
  • Full disclosure of the CETA draft document to the public, followed by organized town hall meetings around our province so that government and citizens can discuss the treaty openly.
  •  A provincial referendum on CETA. Let the people decide if this treaty is in our best interest.
Of course this won’t happen unless ordinary people push for it. So how do people mobilize? Here are some suggestions for groups that could be started by people of all ages and backgrounds:

Teenagers against CETA: It’s your future CETA is messing with, guys. Protest it.
Grandparents against CETA: Who better to speak up for our children’s future?
Lawyers against CETA: Rise up against the ISDS mechanism and offshore courts!
Musicians against CETA: How about giving us a marching song!
Academics against CETA: Who better to analyze the real consequences of this deal!
Citizens against CETA: We exist. Consider joining us!

CETA is not a trade agreement in isolation; it’s just one tentacle of a global corporate octopus whose intent is to squeeze the power out of democratically elected governments everywhere. Other Canadian “trade” tentacles yet to be passed by our federal government include the 12-country Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, the Canada-China Foreign Investment Partnership Agreement and a host of smaller FIPAs.

I think we have become the “unconscious civilization” that John Ralston Saul identified so eloquently in his 1995 Massey Lecture. Preoccupied with our daily trials and distractions, we cannot foresee that we are creeping towards the day when we become subjects, not citizens. We fail to notice that those who insist to us that all these trade agreements are in our best interest use ideology, not logic, slogans, not rational debate, and stealth rather than disclosure. We may be better educated than previous generations but we’re letting ourselves be outsmarted.

To use a sports analogy, it’s time to get off the couch and switch from spectator to player.

Forfeiting control and the right to litigate

Originally published on the Indpendent.ca as Part 4 in the five-part series Cutting Through the Spin on CETA.
The federal government doesn’t want us to know how much we’re giving up for CETA. Presented as a “trade agreement” with the European Union, provisions in CETA’s investment chapter undermine our right to regulate and hold transnational corporations accountable for the consequences of their actions.
Ask critics of the Canada Europe Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) what they most oppose in the agreement and chances are they’ll name the investment protection chapter with its investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism. Past investment “protections” related to NAFTA have led to big corporate lawsuits in offshore tribunals where Canadian law counts for nothing. Approximately 80 per cent of Canada’s payouts or projected payouts in damages have so far had to do with Newfoundland and Labrador.

Under the Atlantic Accord, oil companies were required to spend some of their profits on research and development in this province. When the province tightened up their guidelines after judging that the oil companies were not meeting their obligations, Exxon Mobil and Murphy Oil demanded $65 million in damages. What is noteworthy about this case is that the ISDS decision supporting the corporations came after three levels of Canadian courts had rejected arguments that the companies were being unfairly treated by the new guidelines.

Litigation followed the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador’s expropriation of Abitibi Bowater’s paper mill and related hydro power plant in Grand Falls-Windsor, and the rescinding of water and timber rights on crown land. The province did this after the company closed its last mill in the province, gave minimum compensation to laid-off workers and pensioners and demonstrated no intentions to clean up the environmental damage it had caused. The out of court $130 million settlement with Abitibi Bowater set a troubling precedent for future investors’ rights disputes over natural resources and water on crown land.

Should we consider these and other investor-state decisions unacceptable? In his CETA presentation to the Parliamentary Trade Committee last December, Dr. John Curtis stated:

The Investor-state provisions trouble me, not only in this agreement but in general. I’m not sure previous Canadian governments were right in the NAFTA proceedings….. There’s been a huge bite-back and it’s not clear to me that it’s in Canadians’ national interest to have these provisions.

Dr. Curtis was representing not, as you might expect, one of the left wing think tanks, but rather the corporate-financed C.D. Howe Institute. He is right to be concerned though. CETA’s investment protection section opens up far more avenues for lawsuits than the drafters of NAFTA ever envisioned.

What right to regulate?

Leaked documents published online just a few days ago reveal that, contrary to the claims of the European Commission and Canada, CETA does not reaffirm the right to regulate in its investment protection section. Instead, the right to regulate clause, which is actually found in the preamble to the agreement, does the reverse: “Recognizing the right to regulate within their territories in a manner consistent with this Agreement to achieve their public policy.” According to legal opinion from the Seattle to Brussels Network this formulation quite clearly subjects all government regulations to the terms of the agreement and opens the door to ISDS lawsuits, thereby subverting the democratic process.

Who really qualifies under CETA?

CETA’s Most Favoured Nation (MFN) clause allows any corporation whose home country has signed a trade agreement with Canada that includes an unqualified MFN clause to be grandfathered in to reap CETA’s corporate benefits. That’s not just Mexico and the United States.  Since 2006 the Harper government has signed trade agreements with nine countries, and is engaged in negotiations with 25 others outside of the EU. How many of these countries will have unqualified MFN status? We don’t know.

Then add in the Asian, Latin American, and other transnational corporations that have subsidiaries in Europe. Given this presence may well give them the same rights as European corporations, CETA really starts to look like a global corporate rights treaty, doesn’t it?

How the investment chapter of CETA undermines the rest of the treaty

An MFN clause in CETA’s investment chapter allows corporations to cherry pick provisions from treaties Canada has signed with other countries. They can then use these provisions to pursue lawsuits against CETA restrictions they don’t like. In other words, weak government protection in past treaties can be used by corporations to try and nullify improved wording (at least from government’s point of view) in CETA.

Then there’s CETA’s “Fair and Equitable Treatment (FET)” clause. FET allows corporate challenges to be made based on what has been established as fair and equitable treatment in customary international law elsewhere. So far there have been over 600 ISDS lawsuits worldwide, with many varying interpretations as to what constitutes ‘fair and equitable treatment’. “It’s open season for the lawyers,” said Howard Mann of the International Institute for Sustainable Development in his critique of FET to the Parliamentary Trade Committee last December.

What’s wrong with bypassing the Canadian court system?

All investment arbitration will take place not in Canadian courts, but in offshore, private tribunals which are deeply flawed. A 2014 report by the European Parliamentary Research Service itemized the complaints against the investor-state dispute settlement process:
  • The loopholes and vague formulations of major provisions in treaties leave a wide margin of interpretations to arbitrators.
  • Arbitrators can be guilty of conflict of interest and impartiality.
  • Erroneous awards are aggravated because there is no appeal court.
  • Banks, hedge funds and insurance companies now invest in corporate lawsuits for a share (20-50%) of the rewards. This has led to an increase in frivolous cases.
  • Awards can be huge. The largest known award hit Ecuador in 2012:  $2.4 billion in damages and interest expenses to Occidental Petroleum.
  • The threat of having to pay compensation has had a chilling effect on state regulatory power as every new policy begins to be looked at through the prism of possible lawsuits.
CETA: Our very own Trojan Horse

CETA is like a Trojan horse, isn’t it? It’s packaged and presented to us as a straightforward trade agreement. But peel back all the different layers of this agreement and you begin to see what it really is. At its core, CETA is a surreptitious way of reducing the power of governments at all levels to the benefit of transnational corporations. It’s a power shift operation.

Prime Minister Harper and his cabinet know that. They just don’t want the rest of us to catch on to what’s happening. That’s why, after almost five years of negotiations and an agreement in principle, they refuse to release any drafts of CETA. That’s why they are trying to camouflage the dubious economics of CETA with exaggeration, partial information and an almost exclusive focus on trade. That’s why they are offering to appease the provinces with financial Band-Aids (i.e. to help Ontario with increased drug costs, Quebec with losses to its cheese industry and our province with job losses due to the sacrifice of minimum processing requirements).

It’s a strategy that seems to be working. Among Canada’s elected politicians it’s really only our municipal councilors who have stood up against CETA. The provinces have acquiesced and the Liberal and NDP parties have chosen to talk about trade issues but ignore the elephant in the room: the loopholes that subvert the democratic process in the investment protection section.

The politics and psychology surrounding CETA are truly alarming. If government increasingly sees us as a disengaged public whose opinions can be shaped and massaged by one-liners, half-truths and superficial summary statements, we ought to ask ourselves: why is that? And, what do we do about it? That’s the subject of next week’s final article on CETA.