There is little wonder left why the Harper government has been so secretive about the details of its ongoing “trade” negotiations with the European Union. The more we hear and see about the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), the less there is to like.
After the recent leak of CETA documents, there is quite a bit to see. In fact, we have a good sense of where the trade-offs lie, and what the municipal and provincial governments will have to give up so Mr. Harper can have his highly imbalanced deal.
According to the leaks, Canada has tied a single issue – market access for agricultural goods like beef and pork – to the EU’s most important demands, including patent extensions for pharmaceuticals (contained in a broader intellectual property chapter), procurement and dairy supply management.
Mr. Harper’s message is clear: let more Canadian meat into your borders and we will give you most of what you want in these other areas. Even if this means more expensive health care, and our municipalities giving up the right to “buy local” when spending public money.
The EU is asking Canada to change its pharmaceutical patent regime to extend protections to brand name drug companies at the expense of generic competition. Delaying generic drugs by even a year or two will have huge financial consequences for our public health care system, and Canadians in need of affordable prescription drugs.
Wondering why Canada would be talking about pharmaceutical policy at all in what is supposed to be a trade deal? You are not alone.
The Council of Canadians and Canadian Union of Public Employees were part of a Trade Justice Network delegation to Europe in November, speaking with decision makers about the CETA negotiations. Many members of the EU parliament we met with feel there shouldn’t be an intellectual property chapter.
We completely agree. We also feel strongly more needs to be taken off the table, in particular where it comes to public procurement.
Procurement is essentially public spending – the money our cities, towns, school boards, and hospitals spend on goods, services and infrastructure. Current inter-provincial procurement deals allow cities to prefer Canadian goods on some purchases, or put minimum Canadian content quotas on big infrastructure projects.
But CETA will ban that practice forever. More than 40 municipalities – including Toronto, Victoria, Sackville, Hamilton, Mississauga and Red Deer – have requested to be excluded from these excessive rules.
Yet one of the leaked EU documents calls Canada’s public procurement offer “highly satisfactory,” and “the most ambitious and comprehensive offer Canada and its Provinces have made to any partner, including the U.S.”
Agreeing to pay more for prescription drugs and to stop using public spending as a sustainable development or job creation tool – does this look like a good deal to you?
We don’t think so, but we’re also not surprised. On softwood lumber, Mr. Harper caved in to the U.S. when vindication was near. In the Canada-U.S. “Buy American” negotiations, we made considerable concessions for access to two weeks’ worth of stimulus spending. The recently concluded Foreign Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement (FIPA) with China is extremely imbalanced in favour of Chinese firms operating in Canada. This government has proven incapable of negotiating anything resembling a balanced outcome.
CETA continues this trend of questionable priorities. We have seen leaked texts showing it will include an investor-state dispute settlement process that will allow European corporations to sue Canada over public policies or decisions they don’t like – undermining our local governments for democratic decision they feel might harm profits.
Why sign these bad deals?
We think it is because, like in every other international trade deal the Harper government has brokered, the interests of corporations matter most. We are not anti-trade. Canada is a trading nation and international trade is vital to all levels of our economy. But after the recent leaks we remain firmly opposed to CETA and a Conservative trade agenda that prioritizes multinational profits over the public good, job creation and a more sustainable future.
Paul Moist is national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). Maude Barlow is national chair of the Council of Canadians