The Comprehensive Economic Theft Agreement (CETA)

New Generation Trade Blog | 24 May 2016

The Comprehensive Economic Theft Agreement (CETA)

This is a story that cannot end well — Forget increasing food safety, support for local farms or enforcing protections from climate change. The new trade is not what they say it’s about. We already have the things we desire – less than 3% of tariffs remain on objects outside our borders. The new trade is something with much more weight: It’s about community power and who gets to make decisions. New trade, like the CETA, relinquishes power to the great trade lobbyists: transnational corporations.

Only corporations can enact the legal terms of trade; clearly the deals are for them

I am all for trade — organic bananas and a good Chai tea. This is what our trade system should be: sharing the bounty of the earth in a way that sustains the generations. Despite the rhetoric, the new deals are not a nation to nation experience, but corporate compensation. We know this, not only because the public is restricted from seeing their content during negotiation, but also: new style trade is a court system for corporations. In every case, public policy is on the defense from anticipated profits for the shareholders. Only corporations can enact the legal terms of trade; clearly the deals are for them!

This isn’t a complaint about business — Not all business benefits by trade. The small and medium size suffer from ever increasing mergers and acquisitions. Most of them cannot afford the price of enacting their penalties upon countries. Just one arbitrator in one case can get paid one million dollars. It’s the richest businesses in the world that can claim legislation as discriminatory to their profit. Some transnationals are now in the business of funding the lawsuits. Supra-corporations have found a lawyer, a jury and benefactor all in one and the treaties, which can be upwards of 1000 pages, support their profit rights regardless of social context. There are sections in the new trade for higher aims like the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s labour rights chapter. However, not one of those chapters has ever been found to be legally-binding in trade court. When have you ever known a huge corporation to pay its workers in Vietnam a better wage just because. I am not saying it’s not possible but it has yet to happen, and this style of trade is not going to take us there. All cases won in private arbitration supersede decisions of national courts. Why is this tidbit not expressed in the Liberal trade platform? This fact is omitted from the other party’s discussions, too.

The government is not engaging in a conversation about what the CETA and TPP could do: steal democratic process from future generations

What about consent — When trade is discussed in Canadian media, the conversation is on GDP percents and export quotas rarely referencing the courts and their ramifications on the future. If they are mentioned, as dispute mechanism or national treatment, the meaning is hidden behind the jargon. Boring. There is no transparency about the risks because it’s not really a good conversation starter. How can a government portray a court system that promotes corporate profits over legislation tastefully? What really bores me is not the text, but the lack of courage to have a real conversation. Those who are in-the- know inside the government are one hundred percent responsible to name the risks because this is about political decision-making capacity. And people’s taxes pay for the lawsuits. Yet, our government is not engaging in a dialogue about what the CETA or TPP could do: steal democratic process from future generations, and deny the earth the ability to regulate herself in the constant growth domestic product machine! Not even first nations, with whom the government already has treaty obligations, has been invited to give their opinion. What about their consent.

Understanding one thing — The new generation of trade deals started with the North American Free Trade Agreement. NAFTA popularized this style of deal uncommon before the 90’s – Investor State treaties. NAFTA’s version is Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), but these agreements come with different names and variations — like the CETA’s Investor Court System. You can decipher what a trade treaty is about by understanding one thing: its enforcement mechanism. Can a country use the new trade rules to prevent potential carcinogens from entering its water system? No. Can an investor punish a community for protecting marine habitat when these measures cut into their expected profits? Yes, both true under NAFTA. In trade disputes, no national or local complaint, even if about health, can even be juried. After Paris 2016, we may be making global gains for policy to slow climate change, but until our world policy surrenders its predatory behaviour in trade, we will never win a stable world. Follow the history of investor state. You will feel the catastrophe arising on the horizon like a bad movie. If you learn just one case of Canada’s history, it will change everything you’ve been told about trade. CETA will open up the world’s biggest markets; TPP will make us competitive on the world stage. Boring. And not the real story. I want a better ending.

I am not a fan of conspiracy theories — I don’t even like horror films, thrillers, or most popular drama series on Netflix. Cartoons, romantic comedies, documentaries about food I love and would prefer to be watching right now but am committed by conscience to share these facts: the new deals allow large companies to push back on our local economic policy. Because this is important: Every time another case goes to trade court, government sends the message to its lower levels that regional policy is not in alignment with international commitments. And I am not gonna stop: Some Canadian policy-makers have acknowledged they have seen the chill effect when government tries to pass new regulations for our well-being. Canada, as the most sued nation under NAFTA, has over 2 billion dollars in complaints against us yet to be settled. As the first world loser of trade disputes, you’d think our government would enact the precautionary principle. But what do I know? I am sure if someone of the establishment were listening to a public citizen’s opinion, I would be called anti-trade for naming the dangers, and possibly irrational for caring. As time passes, there will be more and more people saying what I am saying. We are not going to stop. We are only just beginning.

Gold standards or Fool’s Gold — The CETA was called a gold-plated trade deal by Canada’s trade minister, Chrystia Freeland. But who gets the gold? There will be some benefits for big business. Canadian agribusiness will reach more EU markets who were previously closed to Canada’s genetically modified farm products. Canadian energy companies will also benefit from the equal playing field that the CETA provides them in Europe. We have yet to hear from Minister Freeland or Parliamentary Secretary for Trade, David Lametti, how legislating power for foreign corporations to equally bid on city contracts is going to help us under CETA. Yes, us, the little people of the world who live and love in our cities. The people making babies and getting our government elected. The Trudeau team’s public dialogue on the TPP has been weak, but their embrace of Harper’s CETA leaves me speechless. With worry and grief. Maybe I should stop reading trade history and watch more comedies. The CETA is laughable as a tool for expanding real economic growth in Canada, and the Liberal trade platform held in context of our history as the number one sued nation in the developed world ignites skepticism around transparency and hope. While many countries are now heatedly debating the legitimacy of a corporate courts of trade, our government is, by omission, denying that risk exists.

It’s like it never happened — What makes the CETA particularly dangerous to communities is its content is specifically local. For the first time, a first world trade deal has municipal procurement, or the Municipalities Academia Schools and Hospitals (MASH) sector, written into the core. Using public money to purchase contracts locally will become trade-illegal and regulating community affairs very difficult. That is why over forty Canadian municipalities requested to be excluded from the CETA. Have you heard members of parliament discuss their requests? It’s like it never happened. Shhhh, don’t tell and maybe it will go away.

The right to regulate and make decisions is being stolen from future generations

Local Makes Sense — Even where local make the most sense, such as choosing neighbouring farmers to provide food over ones far away, local is still prohibited and punishable by trade law. CETA’s municipal procurement threshold has been set at $340 000. That means that funding projects in the community over this amount requires city council to treat each investor equally regardless of their location, their business practice or the social implications. Equal treatment in trade means equal by measurement of the dollar.Society is rendered irrelevant. Toronto city council was one of the cities to request exemption from the CETA (and then be ignored). They are concerned about their ability to continue hiring local youth from at-risk neighbourhoods for construction contracts over the threshold, and are worried for their budding local city food contracts in hospitals, schools and more.

No local food here — Amy Wood, Canadian researcher published with the Centre for Policy Alternatives, shows how Toronto has reason for concern. She shares the exampleof Sunnyside home care facility in Waterloo whose local food contract costs one million dollars – far above the procurement threshold of $340 000. Under a ratified CETA, the local element could be deemed prohibitory by the food provider. With CETA being an Investor Court System (ICS) deal, what would stop a corporate claim of discrimination to profits for local preferencing?

We could continue to call this trade but it’s something else – the Comprehensive Economic Theft Agreement. The right to regulate and make decisions is being stolen from future generations. We must protect this power with every ounce of the passion we can muster. Consider your love of whole food or of natural habitat. Summon your dreams for your community — a clean, green, happy life. If not for ourselves, then we as citizens and government elect, must awaken the knowledge and with it, a new narrative for future generations. The first step begins with learning text that hides great power: like ISDS and ICS. The next is to check out Canada’s trade history under the first new deal of NAFTA. For upon our awareness, a healthy earth depends.