Trade deals and benefits

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Well, surprise, surprise! The irascible John Crosbie expresses his love for the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) with the European Union, and his disdain for Maude Barlow and the Council of Canadians.

While extolling his own political and personal virtues and accomplishments, Crosbie’s Nov. 2 Telegram rant (“Free trade makes sense, then and now”) heaped unyielding and unquestionable praise on CETA and dismissed and denigrated those with a dissenting opinion.

In the first instance, the full text has yet to be released, so it is difficult for anyone to give a truly informed and definitive position on the deal.

But, based on what we do know, there is no doubt that CETA will be beneficial to big corporations and investors, but not to most Canadians. 

There are several issues about this new-generation trade deal that are deserving of much more information, scrutiny and public debate than the superficial, self-serving rants and blessings of a former politician.

One very critical issue that Crosbie conveniently ignored, and hopes most Canadians will as well, is the matter of investor-state provisions in CETA.

These provisions are technically called investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms. They are the most obscure and least understood aspects of trade deals but the most offensive and insidious.  

They are provisions in trade treaties that fundamentally grant the right to investors (huge, wealthy multi-national companies) to directly sue governments. These provisions are being used by large trans-nationals to challenge a variety of legislation, regulations, policies — and even a country’s court decisions that are broadly interpreted to interfere with that company’s right to make profit.

Public health, environmental protection and human rights (particularly labour rights) are typically the target areas.

These legal challenges are heard by international tribunals made up of high-priced international trade lawyers who have a vested interest in siding with companies. This investment trade arbitration scheme is becoming an ever-growing industry with major law firms promoting their expert “government-suing” services.

In this province, the best example of an ISDS is the infamous Chapter 11 clause of the NAFTA. 

In 2011, Stephen Harper paid a record-setting $130-million settlement to AbitibiBowater to avoid a Chapter 11 challenge. (The Council of Canadians considers such an intentional capitulation as a subtle privatization of water by Harper.)

In 2012, ExxonMobil won its challenge to Premier Danny Williams’ insistence that it spend a few paltry millions of dollars on research and development in the province. The company agreed at the time, but then used NAFTA.  It asked for $65 million but the award has yet to be determined.

Under NAFTA, Canada has had twice as many claims against it (34) compared to the U.S. and Mexico. Canadian investors have had zero successful claims, while we have paid out more than $160 million. There is some $2.5 billion in eight outstanding claims by U.S. investors, including a $500-million challenge by Eli Lilly against several Canadian court rulings on drug patents.

Given this NAFTA experience and the prolific litigation habits of EU companies, CETA will spawn a huge increase in these challenges, except for the first time, provinces and municipalities will pay any awards directly.

Gone will be the days of a fighting premier like Danny Williams taking on the big multinationals on behalf of his citizens to extract the maximum benefits from resource development. Foreign investors will be calling the shots and under the protection of their iron-clad “bill of rights” in CETA.

So, Mr. Crosbie will have to forgive me if I question and reject his platitudes regarding CETA. I suggest that he get over the fact that Maude Barlow and the council dared to challenge him during the NAFTA debate.

Despite his self-proclaimed wisdom and righteousness, citizens of this country and their civil society organizations are allowed to have and voice dissenting views without pompous consternation from the political elite.

Just like the fishermen of Petty Harbour on that fateful day of July 2, 1992, I hope that Maude Barlow and many more concerned Canadians will continue to stand up and speak up against trade deals that are not really in the public interest.

Ken Kavanagh is chairman of the St. John’s chapter of the Council of Canadians.

Organizations: NAFTA, Eli Lilly, EU

Geographic location: U.S., Canada, Mexico CETA.So Petty Harbour

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Recent comments

  • Mike Manning
    January 12, 2014 - 18:27

    I've just seen Ken Kavanagh's rebuttal to John Crosbie and his rant against Maude Barlow . It is frightening to realize just how little the general public have been allowed to know about CETA.

  • Mike Manning
    January 12, 2014 - 18:25

    I've just seen Ken Kavanagh's rebuttal to John Crosbie and his rant against Maude Barlow . It is frightening to realize just how little the general public have been allowed to know about CETA.

  • Mr. Crosbie needs to write a column on the pros and cons of the CETA Agreement.
    December 18, 2013 - 12:54

    Wasn't Mr. Crosibe the main proponent of the Free Trade Movement when he was in power in Ottawa? Now that he isn't in power he is still as large as life defending it despite the fact nothing good has come to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador from it. We have lost all of our natural resources in the raw state that have been thuso far developed. It appears to me he doesn't care about the average citizen in this province. Since we are an aging population, I can see most of us having to starve and freeze in the dark since we are not living on indexed incomes. Mr. Crosbie it is time for you to speak up in defense of those who adored you and put all their trust in you to do what was good for them during your time in political office. They were not aware of the economic policies you were putting in place that would bring them down to the lowest common denominator, I am one of those people. Or maybe Mr. Crosbie you can write a column spelling out the pros and cons of the CETA Agreement on how it will impact on the people of our province economically, both beneficially and detrimentally, and maybe then we will understand CETA better. Our minds need to be put to rest on this frightening agreement.

  • Cashin Delaney
    December 18, 2013 - 10:24

    Dog says woof, cat says meow. Political animals might as well get down on all fours in this province when they speak to the public. Comment monkeys. Prepare to sling your excreted opinions.

  • Corporate Psycho
    December 18, 2013 - 07:08

    Another giveaway by this government. So who gets the 400million they were bought with?