Epoch Times | Oct 20, 2010
Farmers’ union wants Canada-EU trade deal scrapped
Proposed agreement will boost trade and the economy, says Van Loan
By Joan Delaney
Epoch Times Staff
With the fifth round of talks in the proposed Canada-EU free trade agreement taking place this week in Ottawa, the National Farmers Union has launched a campaign against the deal, saying it threatens the democratic rights of Canadians.
The NFU says too much is being bargained away in the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and want it scrapped.
The organization, which obtained a draft of the agreement earlier this year, says CETA would subject farmers to “draconian” property rights enforcement measures, including the virtual elimination of the age-old practice of saving, reusing, and selling seed from their crops.
Under provisions in CETA, using saved seed could result in a farmer’s land, equipment, and crops being seized for alleged infringement of intellectual property rights attached to plant varieties owned by corporations such as Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta, and Bayer.
“It includes the freezing of bank accounts too, so you couldn’t even defend yourself in court. And this is for alleged infringement,” says NFU president Terry Boehm.
“These are the most draconian measures possible and they would literally create a culture of fear in the farm population where, I think, that ultimately farmers would end up buying seeds every year for every acre just to avoid prosecution or the threat of prosecution.”
Having to buy all their seeds would cost farmers hundreds of millions of dollars in increased expenses, Boehm says, adding that the deal will not give Canadian farmers access to Europe for their genetically modified crops.
Civil society groups such as the Council of Canadians, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and the Canadian Union of Public Employees are also against the agreement, saying it poses a serious threat to Canada’s procurement policies and a broad range of public services.
“We heard all these same arguments when we had the debate on free trade with the United States, and the result of that trade agreement has been outstandingly successful for Canada,” Trade Minister Peter Van Loan said on Monday.
“The fact is, we’re looking to secure additional access for our farmers to European markets. That’s why there is strong support, for example, among Western grain farmers and beef farmers for these negotiations.”
The unprecedented scope of CETA—described as being considerably more ambitious and far-reaching than NAFTA—means that for the first time, the provinces are at the negotiating table.
Van Loan told The Epoch Times that because NAFTA didn’t include provincial or sub-national procurement, when the U.S. brought in its Buy American policy last year Canadian companies suffered negative impacts.
“Manufacturers and workers were losing significant contracts to the United States, because we didn’t have an agreement on procurement at the sub-national level in NAFTA. So seeking to do that now is important for the benefits it provides Canadian companies and workers.”
With Europe being Canada’s second largest trading partner after the U.S., Van Loan says the agreement has the potential to increase two-way trade by 20 percent, bringing a $12 billion boost annually to the Canadian economy.
If CETA goes ahead, he adds, Canada will be the only developed economy to have trade agreements with both the U.S. and the EU, the two biggest economies in the world.
“That’s a tremendous platform for Canadian companies from which to compete.”
While Canadian companies are seeking better access to the European market for agriculture and minerals without having to meet stricter EU standards, the EU wants better access than American companies got in NAFTA—right down to the city and school board level.
The EU also wants Canada to rewrite intellectual property and telecommunications rules, including a proposal that Canada extend its term of copyright from 40 to 70 years.
“It’s really a re-colonization of Canada,” says Boehm. “It’s unbelievable the scope and the breadth of this agreement, how far it goes. These intellectual property provisions—they will apply to pharmaceuticals, widgets, whatever it might be.”
Under CETA, all levels of government would be prohibited from giving preference to locally produced food and locally owned businesses and services, says Boehm, and if one province accepts an EU product, all provinces are banned from refusing that product.
A report on CETA by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says the agreement would have an adverse impact on public services such as waste, drinking water, and public transit. CETA provisions would entrench public-private partnerships; prohibit governments from obliging foreign investors to purchase locally, transfer technology, or train local workers; and make it harder for governments to reverse failed privatizations, the report says.
“Government procurement at the sub-federal level is one of the few remaining areas of significant policy flexibility under Canada’s international trade treaties,” says Scott Sinclair, author of the report. “Provincial, territorial and municipal governments should not discard this important policy tool simply because the EU and the federal government demand it.”
Ken Lewenza, president of the Canadian Auto Workers, said in a Toronto Star op-ed that that the bilateral trade deal “has less to do with eliminating border tariffs for goods and everything to do with reforming the more contentious realm of government policy and domestic regulation.”
Because the average EU tariffs are only 2 percent, Canada has very little to gain, Boehm says, adding that CETA contains some provisions similar to the proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investment which was derailed by a global wave of protest in 1998.
One of the EU’s main targets in the talks is Ontario’s Green Energy Act, which offers subsidies in return for cleaner energy sources and local job creation. According to news reports, Ontario’s misgivings on the opening up of government procurement procedures to bidding from European companies could put the negotiations in jeopardy.
The closed-door talks in Ottawa this week, the fifth and probably final round of negotiations, are expected to deal with the “sticky” issues that remain to be negotiated, procurement being one.
Van Loan doesn’t see a problem however, noting that most municipalities in Canada already engage in “wide-open” procurement policies.
“Why? Because it delivers the best value for their tax dollars. So in an agreement like this, obviously we’re looking for reciprocity, we’re looking for the same ability for our Canadian companies and workers to bid on contracts in the European Union, which of course is a far bigger marketplace than Canada.”
Van Loan adds that those who “fear a trade agreement because it is broad or deep” are ignoring the fact that Canada has benefited significantly from existing trade agreements.
“There’s a reason why Canada is doing better than any other major developed economy. It’s because we have moved so ambitiously with our free trade agenda, and we do believe that free trade agenda is one of the keys to our economic success right now.”
The government’s aim is to have an agreement in place before the end of 2011. “We are on track to be able to meet that objective,” says Van Loan.