Get the right deal, not a rushed deal

Permit me to begin this article by wishing we had one thousandths the level of media coverage of CETA into the Canada-China Investment Treaty.  By the time you read this, the likelihood is that Canada will be bound for a minimum of 31 years to a treaty that gives the Peoples Republic of China the ability to make multi-billion claims against Canada based on changes to our laws, it finds “arbitrary.”  Of all the investor-state agreements developed since the first one – Chapter 11 of NAFTA – this one poses the greatest menace to our sovereignty and democracy.

The second point is that for all that CETA has more attention than the Canada-China Investment Treaty, it does not have enough either.

Unlike the Canada-China Investment Treaty, this trade deal is one the Prime Minister has not kept under a barrel.  It has already been over-hyped by PMO with Stephen Harper claiming the deal will bring $12 billion worth of benefit toCanada. Even though this figure was called into question by an assessment conducted by the European Commission, a study that put the benefits at a more conservative $3-6 billion, Mr. Harper continues to use the exaggerated figure.

The proposed Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the European Union (known as CETA) is an ambitious attempt to cover huge aspects of our economy – impacting health care costs, supply management in agriculture, procurement, arts and culture to name a few.  As well, like the Canada-China Investment Treaty it would create opportunities for arbitration for claims for the EU investors against Canada and vice versa. It has been on a three year negotiation track with the goal of concluding negotiations by the end of this year. But Matthias Brinkmann, head of the European Union Delegation to Canada, thinks the deadline may not be met.  Speaking in Halifax on October 22, 2012,  Brinkmann confirmed that little to no progress has been made on most of the key issues.  The issues identified as among those Brinkmann describes as leaving the most difficult until last include patent protection for pharmaceuticals, procurement rules for public projects, supply management in agriculture, rules of origin and investor-state provisions.

That’s a long list to get done by the end of this year.  And then there’s the approval process.  The EU must vote to approve and so must each parliament of the 27 member states. And some member states are already angry with Canada over more restrictive Visa requirements (Czech Republic, Hungary and Bulgaria) and quite a lot of parliamentarians, certainly all those in green Parties in the EU Parliament itself, as well as Germany, Finland, Sweden, Norway, France, UK, the Netherlands, Denmark, Greece, Spain, Italy, to name a few, are concerned about Canada’s efforts to over-turn the Carbon Fuel Standard, disrupt global climate negotiations, undermine the Kyoto Protocol,  our appalling obstruction in June 2011 at the Rotterdam Convention asbestos discussions, to name a few.  Even if this agreement were negotiated between Canada and the EU, approval is far from a sure thing.  One thing the Prime Minister cares about (CETA) could be sabotaged by his record on things he thought didn’t matter (Kyoto, climate, asbestos).

Take it as read that the Green Party will support the civil society groups that are opposed to higher prices for pharmaceutical drugs by granting greater patent protection to EU Big Pharma. We will oppose any agreement that undermines our ability to ensure municipal water systems remain public, or that undercut the Canadian arts and culture sector.  We will insist that any new trade agreement be about fair trade and a fair deal for Canadians.

There is no need to rush the negotiations to a desperate last push this year.  Given the EU approval process, it is more important to get the right deal than a rushed deal.

Elizabeth May is the Leader of the Green Party of Canada and the Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands.
Originally printed in Embassy News.