Canada-Jordan Economic Growth and Prosperity Act

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on the subject of free trade, particularly in the context of globalization. Now, after the creation of the World Trade Organization, we have a situation that is completely different from what it was before the creation of the WTO.

As always, the models for free trade are based on the NAFTA principles and not on the principles of other agreements that would, in my opinion, produce more benefits for the environment and for all societies.


There are specific issues relating to Jordan with this trade agreement. I would like to preface that with a review of how we came to where we are in terms of where Canada’s interests lie as a society, not merely our trade in goods. All of these debates usually rest on the notion that if members have questions about new trade agreements, they are against trade with another nation. I remember a venerable senator who had been minister of agriculture for many years commented that trade is not new, what was Marco Polo doing. We certainly have had trade for a very long time. No one is against trade.

In the context of global trade, we have seen a remarkable transition. We used to live in a world of tariff barriers that allowed the Canadian economy to grow to be as strong as it is now. After the Second World War tariff barriers were targeted and we began to see them coming down. The efforts to say that one country must not discriminate against another began to swing the pendulum in the opposite direction to what we had seen before the Second World War.

These efforts led to the creation of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. In the first instance, the GATT was quite restrictive in terms of focusing on trade in goods, which is what most Canadians understand we mean when we talk about trade agreements: trade in goods, our ability to buy and sell, the ability of our neighbours to buy and sell to us. This trade in goods is something that has been handled by the GATT for a very long time.

Things changed substantially in the 1990s. It took nine years of negotiations, the Uruguay round, to bring forward an updated version of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and within that new agreement to do some things that had not been done before. It was the advent of looking beyond goods to look at trade in services, to look beyond those things that were completely commercial and make changes that had implications for culture, for society overall, for the environment and for labour. In other words, the approach of the trade world began to impinge on other aspects of society. They became not just trade agreements, but agreements that actually changed the very fundamental relationship between citizens and their government versus the relationship of corporations and those governments.

If there was a time when we had too many tariff barriers, if there was a time when we were too protectionist, that time is long past. We have now seen the pendulum swing so far that the so-called liberalization of trade is not just advancing the flow of goods but to advance the interests of a dogma of globalization, which allows more and more multinational corporations to dictate policies, to have a greater role and arguably a greater role than the citizens.

I will back up and look at the model to which I referred earlier, the NAFTA model. It has dictated a great deal since we entered into that agreement. Probably the most egregious part of the NAFTA model is the investor state provisions which allow a corporation based in a country that is part of the trade agreement, in the case of NAFTA corporations based in the U.S. or Mexico, to have the ability to sue the Canadian government if it passes a law that they do not like.

Chapter 11 of NAFTA, the investor state provisions, allows a foreign corporation from the U.S. or Mexico to sue the Canadian government at the federal level. It allows a foreign corporation to have rights which are superior to those of a domestic corporation. A domestic corporation does not have the right to sue our government. This provision actually gives preferential treatment to foreign corporations to sue Canada if there is a regulation passed by the House of Commons. In a democratic house of assembly we can pass a law which is untouchable by a Canadian corporation, but a foreign corporation can sue us for damages.

Not only under the investor-state provisions within NAFTA can a U.S. or Mexican corporation sue us, it can sue the federal level, a province and a municipal government. We have seen the examples under chapter 11 of NAFTA for quite some time. Laws passed by this House had to be repealed because of a chapter 11 challenge. I refer specifically to Ethyl Corporation of Richmond, Virginia, which sued the Canadian government for costs and damages when this House chose to restrict access to a manganese-based gasoline additive that the health community warned was neurotoxic and the environment community warned was a danger to the environment. The car manufacturers said that they did want it in their cars because it compromised the catalytic converters, hurt their warranties and they needed action on it.

Even when the factual basis for governmental action is not in question and there is no notion that the action taken was in any way motivated by trade discrimination, in other words, we were not trying to give preferential treatment to a Canadian industry or product, the agreement is sufficient. The lawyer who represented Ethyl Corporation at the time, Barry Appleton from Toronto, said, “it would not matter if one added liquid plutonium to children’s breakfast cereal, if the government banned it and the people who made it said that they lost profit through that action, they could sue”.

I may have taken too long on that specific example but I wanted to make the point that trade agreements have gone too far. We are no longer talking about access to goods and services. We are talking about changing the fundamentals of the relationship. The primary relationship between a government should be to the citizens who elect the members of Parliament to serve in that government. There should be no superior rights of redress to a foreign corporation but we have seen that happen time and time again.

The most recent and egregious example was when the Prime Minister chose to pre-empt a complaint by a forest company against actions taken by the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. In that case, AbitibiBowater was the holder of what had been a 99 year lease that allowed it, at bargain basement prices, to have access to a large area of forest on the condition that it ran a pulp mill. Into the bargain, believe it or not, in this 99 year lease, had been thrown water rights and other ancillary benefits.

When the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador said that it would not let AbitibiBowater close its mill and sell off everything it had under the lease, which would include water rights and the forest itself, as Newfoundland and Labrador said that it did not have access to those, the foreign corporation sued. In that instance, the Prime Minister chose to castigate the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to pay out tens of millions of dollars to AbitibiBowater and said that it did not want something like that to ever happen again.

These investor-state provisions are creeping into all of these so-called bilateral investment agreements, or BITs. The Prime Minister just returned from Beijing and was very thrilled to have a new proposed trade agreement with China that would include these very provisions that would allow a foreign government to sue us.

In this instance, we are looking at a proposed agreement with Jordan. There are many good and substantial reasons to improve relationships with Jordan. Jordan has a reputation and a long-standing role as one of the most stable and least xenophobic Arab states and is certainly the most supportive of the existence of the state of Israel compared to most of the nations in that region.

Jordan has many things to recommend it but democracy is not among them. It is a monarchy. However, the late King Hussein of Jordan was always seen as someone of enormous wisdom. I must say that I was always impressed by his sense of wisdom and by his wife, Queen Noor, who was a strong advocate for the environment.

I had the great honour of serving on the earth charter commission, which was co-chaired by Mikhail Gorbachev and Maurice Strong. I had the good fortune to get to know Princess Basma of Jordan, who was King Hussein’s sister. As I approach this, I have a sense of Jordan’s place in the world and a sense of, albeit small, personal connection.

However, when we look at the implications of this trade agreement with Jordan, I do not think we should rush into it without having much better and more substantial answers for a couple of key points. We have heard numerous commentators point out that the Canada-Jordan free trade agreement could create free licence to greater human smuggling, that there would be an increased flow of foreign workers into Jordanian factories and that this could undermine labour rights in Jordan.

When we enter into a negotiation such as this, I would suggest a couple of steps that we tend to miss. The first step would be how to build a stronger relationship with a country. We can fill in the blank for the country, although in this case it would be Jordan. Yesterday we were talking about Panama. How do we build good links? Canada, traditionally, has been able to build good links through a robust Department of Foreign Affairs. There were skilled and qualified diplomats working in these countries. There were people who spoke local languages, spent time getting to know the local NGO community and were able to provide a context with which we dealt with nations. The importance of our foreign affairs outreach in recent years has been quite diminished. We have closed embassies and consulates around the world, which means that our reach is reduced.

When we have a relationship with a country, whether it is Panama, Jordan or China, it is important that the relationship be built on many pillars. One is, of course, the diplomatic one to which I referred. Another is greater social interaction and cultural exchanges. The government has shut down all the programs that dealt with allowing Canadian artists to perform overseas, which was building stronger relationships through our culture.

We also need relationships to be built on, not on the model of the NAFTA but more like the model from the European Union. In that model, all nations within the EU, when they undertook to become part of that shared common market, had to accept the toughest levels of environmental and labour standards of any one of the member countries. This is a key principle that is completely lacking in NAFTA. Under NAFTA, there are no requirements to meet higher standards. The most we got out of the language of NAFTA was that it would be unacceptable for a country to lower its environmental standards in order to advance trade.

There is a very large difference between NAFTA saying that countries are not allowed to lower their environmental standards to attract more trade and the completely different approach of the EU, which is that countries must raise their standards. Generally speaking, Germany has the highest environmental standards and therefore other countries had to raise themselves up to equal the German standards. Some of those countries were poor and so there was a transfer of resources to help them do that.

If one were looking at models around the world to find ways to use the trade pillar to advance other issues, then one would never follow the NAFTA model. It would be the worst possible way to go. One would look at the best examples around the world and follow those. If we have relationships on the basis of trade, those relationships should include raising the bar and telling foreign corporations that they need to look at a code of conduct enshrined in law internationally in the same way that we protect intellectual property rights. We know how to design regimes, such as the TRIPS Agreement, which requires that all nations proactively pass legislation to protect intellectual property rights and give all countries the ability to search and seize goods crossing a border if they do not meet the qualifications for intellectual property rights. We know how to do these things.

What if we were to say, for instance, that no goods at a border are allowed to pass if they have involved child labour? We could say that we will not allow goods to cross a border if they involve the destruction of precious ecosystems. Instead, our trade mantra is that we do not interfere with PPMs, process and production methods. What is an intellectual property infringement other than a process and production method? It means the product was produced by stealing someone else’s intellectual property. Why is it a greater offence under the trade regime to steal intellectual property than to exploit children, destroy forests or increase greenhouse gas emissions?

If we look at the global governance of trade, there is tremendous potential there for good. There is tremendous potential to harness the ability that has been used to protect intellectual property rights and use those kinds of agreements to protect labour standards, to protect children, to protect ecosystems and to advance a low carbon economy. All of these things could be done but they are not being done.

To ensure that Canadian corporations, U.S. corporations, Dutch, Chinese or whatever corporations participate in the GATT, we should have a global agreement on corporate behaviour stating that all corporations operating within this trade zone, which is basically every country except Cuba, need to meet minimum standards, such as proper labour standards and environmental standards. In that way, no corporation would be disadvantaged by having to take these standards on because all corporations would have a level playing field. It would be quite progressive coming from the lessons learned through the development of the GATT, the WTO, the TRIPS Agreement, the General Agreement on Trade in Services and so on. We have not done that here.

We have before us an agreement that follows the traditional typical model. It would give investment rights. It has a few nice words. There would be more of an environmental assessment review. We have had a review of what the Canada-Jordan free trade negotiations would mean. There is some agreement to work together on environmental issues. However, we still have the looming problems of reduced labour standards within Jordan, the risk of human trafficking and the fact that we have skewed the relationship that we have with other nations to the effect that it appears that nothing matters other than trade.

I suppose the House can now sense that there is a theme to what I am saying. We are not against trade and we are not against new trade agreements but a balance must be achieved so that our relationship with other countries in the world is based on multilateralism and internationalism. It must always recognizes the priority of citizens in a country to make decisions and have them binding. It must not give superior rights to corporations over citizens. It must rebalance the importance of diplomacy, of exchange and of fair trade in goods. It must insist that the rules that govern our trade agreements constantly reinforce and elevate the nature of our relationships, not put us in a situation where the populace of various countries push back.

We will see come before the House before too long the comprehensive economic trade agreement with the European Union. As I have been talking about EU trade agreements, how ironic is it that we are not seeing in the draft of that agreement a replication of the EU model but one that looks more like the NAFTA model with the benefits that will largely accrue to European pharmaceutical companies and so on? However, that agreement is not before us yet.

I do not oppose the bill going to committee where it can be improved. Our relationship with Jordan is important but it must be much richer, more complex and more nuanced than advancing agreements and relationships with Jordan through a trade agreement that fails to live up to its potential. We must revisit this. We must protect the rights of workers and protect the environment.