Tuesday, 27 May 2014

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.