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Trudeau Bullying on Trade Deal

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Photo by Alex Guibord | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Alex Guibord | CC BY 2.0

Despite its “sunny ways,” the Justin Trudeau government appears to have resorted to bullying and spin to try to get its way on a controversial trade deal – the Canada –EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) – that millions of Canadians and Europeans are opposed to.

The target is the Belgium region of Wallonia, which has so far resisted approval of CETA and on October 18 prevented EU trade ministers from gaining unanimous approval of the deal at a meeting in Luxembourg.

Walloon President Paul Magnette has been subjected to intense pressure to change his mind on CETA, after Wallonia’s regional legislature earlier rejected the deal on Oct. 14. The Council of Canadians reports that not only did the Canada European Roundtable for Business send President Magnette a “bluntly worded letter,” but Canada’s Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland sent former Liberal trade minister Pierre Pettigrew to meet with Magnette last Friday (Oct. 14) right after Wallonia’s regional vote. Freeland’s parliamentary secretary had already told Walloon legislators there would be “consequences” if they reject CETA. [1].

After the meeting with Pierre Pettigrew, Magnette told reporters that “The pressures are very strong.” He also said his region had faced “thinly veiled threats” from corporations before the Oct. 18 trade ministers meeting in Luxembourg, which decided to delay their CETA voting until later this week. [2]

Pettigrew, Canada’s European trade envoy, told the press on Oct. 18 that the vote by the EU trade ministers “could happen as early as Thursday (Oct. 20), when EU leaders kick off a two-day summit.” [3] CETA is scheduled to be officially signed at an EU-Canada meeting with Prime Minister Trudeau in Brussels on Oct 27.

The Council of Canadians has issued a press release calling on the Trudeau government, EU officials and transnational corporations “to stop their intense pressure on Wallonia to sign CETA and to listen to widely held public concerns about the deal.” [4]

CETA Spin

The corporate media on both sides of the Atlantic attempt to create the impression that a mere 3.5 million Walloons are the only ones opposed to CETA and are unfairly holding up a deal that everyone else wants.

In fact, the European Trade Union Confederation, representing 45 million workers across Europe, is solidly opposed to CETA, as is the European Public Service Union, representing 8 million European public service workers. As well, 3.5 million individuals from all EU member states and Canada have signed a petition opposing CETA, along with 120 civil society organizations. [5]

In a report released on Oct. 18, Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) states that “More than 2,000 local and regional governments in 13 EU countries have declared themselves TTIP/CETA free zones, often in cross-party resolutions. National and regional parliaments, too, worry about CETA, for example in Belgium, France, Slovenia, Luxembourg, Ireland, and the Netherlands.” [6] Dozens of Canadian municipalities are also officially opposed to CETA.

Much is now being made of a new “interpretative declaration” that would supposedly ease the fears of the Walloons and other opponents to CETA. But the (Oct. 18) report from CEO called “The Great CETA Swindle” says the declaration (“designed by Brussels and Ottawa”) is simply a PR attempt “to sell CETA as a progressive agreement” while it remains “what it always has been: an attack on democracy, workers, and the environment.” The CEO report goes through the “declaration” point by point, revealing its empty rhetoric that “has the legal weight of a holiday brochure.” [7]

“Moving the Furniture Around”

This “declaration,” now being buffed and shined and circulated among the EU trade ministers and others, is apparently what former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney was referring to on Oct. 18 when he called the CETA delay just a “hiccup.” Mulroney is now a senior partner with giant law firm Norton Rose Fulbright.

As CBC News reported, “Mulroney had nothing but praise for the Canadian government’s approach, saying it’s doing the right thing having former Liberal trade minister Pierre Pettigrew involved as its envoy and having Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard lobby the French-speaking Wallonian holdouts. ‘I think they can move the furniture around,’ [Mulroney] said of efforts to reach a compromise before the European Council meets at the end of the week. ‘You may remember that having campaigned against free trade and NAFTA, that Mr. [Jean] Chretien, for example, said he’d never sign NAFTA. And he signed it. Why? Well because [former U.S. president Bill] Clinton made a few little changes at the end that the new government was able to use to say, ‘well, it’s different.’

‘Well, it wasn’t different,’ said Mulroney, whose previous Conservative government had led negotiations for the North American Free Trade Agreement before it was voted out of office. ‘But it was enough to be able to justify a change in position’.” [8]

Mulroney seems to think that European leaders like Walloon President Paul Magnette are capable of the same kind of cynical posturing with regard to CETA.

Pierre Pettigrew told the same CBC reporter, “Hopefully our friends from Wallonia will realize that that interpretative declaration can reassure them with some of the challenges that they have and some of the resistance that they have around labour standards and human rights, and challenges with the investor-state [dispute settlement] chapter.” [9]

ISDS

The investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism, first introduced in NAFTA, allows foreign corporations to sue governments over policy decision or regulations that harm their future profits. For example, TransCanada Corporation is suing the U.S. government (under NAFTA) for more than $15 billion for failing to approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, even though the company invested just $2.4 billion in the controversial project. With ISDS, there is no upper limit to how much a company can claim in “lost future profits.”

Current trade deals like CETA and TPP (TransPacific Partnership) would open up huge new vistas for ISDS lawsuits, which is one reason why the corporate sector is pushing the deals so relentlessly. In my forthcoming book – Beyond Banksters: Resisting the New Feudalism – I call CETA the “no lawyers left behind” treaty because of the number of ISDS and other lawsuits it would likely engender on both sides of the Atlantic.

Interestingly, the Oct. 18 CEO report is especially critical of the PR attempts in the so-called “interpretative declaration” to be reassuring about ISDS lawsuits. CEO states: “There are many rules in CETA which will make it more difficult to fight climate change and protect the environment; CETA’s investor rights could trigger costly lawsuits from polluting companies when governments ban or regulate toxic dirty mines…” [10]

According to Bloomberg’s executive profile of Pierre Pettigrew, the trade envoy is the director of several mining companies and is also on the board of Sulliden Mining Capital Inc., whose website states: “We generate value through the acquisition and development of quality mining projects. In addition, we identify opportunities across industries for active investments.” Sulliden Mining

Capital has mining projects/investments in Quebec, Brazil and Romania.

The Canadian government under former PM Stephen Harper promoted CETA as good for Canadian mining companies who want to enter the European market because it would eliminate “red tape” and “smooth the movement of capital” across the Atlantic. [11] By appointing Pettigrew as trade envoy, the Trudeau government is obviously following in Harper’s footsteps.

Corporate Europe Observatory says Canada and the EU governments have gone into “a massive propaganda mode,” framing CETA as “a very progressive” trade agreement when actually “the gains from CETA would overwhelmingly flow to owners of capital.” [12]

Whether the Walloons and others fall for the spin will be clear in a very short time.

Footnotes:

[1] Council of Canadians, “CETA decision delayed at EU meeting, Trudeau government bullies to get deal,” October 18, 2016.

[2] Ibid.

[3] The Canadian Press, “Canada-European trade envoy Pierre Pettigrew optimistic CETA will be approved,” October 18, 2016.

[4] Council of Canadians, op. cit.

[5] Transnational Institute, “Letter to Chancellor Kern on CETA,” October 6, 2016.

[6] Corporate Europe Observatory, “The great CETA swindle,” October 18, 2016.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Janyce McGregor, “Canada-EU trade deal delay just a ‘hiccup,’ ex-PM Brian Mulroney says,” CBC News, October 18, 2016.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Corporate Europe Observatory, op. cit.

[11] Council of Canadians, “Oliver says CETA will be good for mining companies,” November 12, 2013.

[12] Corporate Europe Observatory, op. cit.

Joyce Nelson’s sixth book, Beyond Banksters: Resisting the New Feudalism, can be ordered at: http://watershedsentinel.ca/banksters. She can be reached through www.joycenelson.ca.

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