By Mike Archer. Abbotsford MP, Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia Pacific Gateway Ed Fast has been the Harper government’s lead player on a range of free trade deals on which the government has based much of its economic platform.
Cover Image: Storck Harbour scene from Wikipedia
Those free trade deals have proven difficult eggs to crack for Fast and Harper and much is riding on their success in being able to navigate the tricky waters of foreign affairs and multinational deal-making.
Domestic politics, on all sides of any trade deals, play an enormously important role in the negotiations and contribute to the difficulties of negotiating workable deals.
We caught with up Mr. Fast and asked him about the ongoing discussions with the European Economic Community (EU) over the proposed free trade deal between Canada and the EU and asked him about the difficulties his government has faced and the potential impact of such a deal if it ends up being ratified.
Abbotsford Today: a) Both the Globe and Mail and the Huffington Post are reporting that leaked copies of the Canada-EU Free Trade Deal reveal that the Canadian government “caved on the issue of patent protection for drugs.
b) Perhaps the biggest flaw people see in the document, according to the Huffington Post’s report, is that, “Corporations would be able to sue governments if those companies felt a country’s laws violated its rights under the trade deal. They say these sorts of dispute mechanisms essentially usurp a country’s sovereignty.”
How do you respond to those concerns?
Ed Fast: “Canada does not comment on leaks of purported negotiating texts. Last October, Canada, with the unanimous endorsement of all Provinces and Territories, reached an historic Agreement-in-Principle on a free trade agreement with the European Union.
“We have released comprehensive materials which describe the various elements of the agreement and clearly show the significant benefits that will be generated in every region of Canada upon the agreement’s entry into force. Now that officials have reached a complete text of the agreement, the process of translation and final legal review will commence.
“Planning for a September Canada-EU Summit, to be hosted in Canada, has also begun.”
AT: The revelations in the document are reported to show an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) chapter, which Council for Canadians political director Brent Patterson called “undemocratic.”
Can you guarantee that the same costly measures from the Canada-US deal (NAFTA) which so worried the German government, will not threaten Canada’s interests under the deal as it is currently proposed?
EF: “The Council of Canadians is an anti-trade organization that has opposed every single FTA that Canada has ever signed. 27 years ago they opposed the Canada-US FTA, claiming that we would lose our culture, our healthcare system, our sovereignty over things such as water, and would hollow out our economy and result in the loss of millions of Canadian jobs. Instead, the opposite happened. Millions of jobs were created, our culture and healthcare system remain strong, and Canada has full sovereignty over its affairs. The anti-trade naysayers were wrong 27 years ago, and they’re just as wrong today.
“Since NAFTA came into force, Canada has received more than $300 billion of foreign direct investment, mostly from the US, making it very clear that NAFTA has solidified Canada’s reputation as one of the best, most stable, secure and predictable places to invest in the world.”
AT: The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has not commented on the leaked text but municipal governments have argued strongly they should be exempted from any agreement, which bans policies providing for them to purchase locally in order to support local jobs and businesses.
The document, which has been released, has none of those guarantees in it. What reassurances can you give Canadian municipalities?
EF: “Our government is proud of the relationship we’ve built with the FCM, the voice of Canada’s municipal sector and we’ve worked closely with them throughout these negotiations. The FCM has recognized the clear benefits that a Canada-EU trade agreement will bring to our shared constituents. Earlier in the negotiations, they helpfully identified specific principles to guide us to ensure Canadian interests were protected, including those vital to local communities.
“We welcomed their input, offered municipalities clear commitments and through CETA, we’ve ensured these principles have been respected.”
AT: Is the federal government sacrificing the interests of Canadian citizens, businesses and municipalities in order to strike a deal at all costs in the un-up to an election?
EF: “The Canada-EU agreement is by far Canada’s most ambitious trade agreement ever concluded. The EU is the world’s largest integrated economy, with more than 500 million consumers and an annual GDP of $17 trillion. It’s estimated that the Canada-EU agreement could boost the Canadian economy by $12 billion annually, equivalent to creating 80,000 jobs or to boosting the average Canadian family’s income by $1,000 annually.
“It will make Canada an even more attractive destination for investors and manufacturers. Whether you are a fisherman in Atlantic Canada, a forestry worker in Québec, an auto-worker in Ontario, a Prairie farmer, or an engineer from the West – all Canadians will benefit from the Canada-European Union Trade Agreement.”
“British Columbians stand to benefit significantly from this preferred access to the EU market. The EU is already B.C.’s fourth-largest trading partner and export destination. When it comes into force, CETA will eliminate tariffs on almost all of B.C.’s key exports and provide access to new opportunities in the EU market. Exporters in these sectors will also benefit from other CETA provisions that will improve conditions for exports—provisions, for example, that ease regulatory barriers, reinforce intellectual property rights and ensure more transparent rules for market access.
“Top provincial benefits include duty-free access for forestry and wood products; new markets for agricultural and agri-food products; new markets for fish and seafood; improved access for professional services.”
AT: Are Canada’s dairy farmers going to be allowed to retain their protected, monopoly status under the new Canada-EU Free Trade Deal?
EF: “Our Government has always defended Canada’s supply management system, and in this Agreement, we have continued to do so. The three pillars of our domestic system of supply management remain intact (production control, import controls and price controls).
“As you know, the continuing growth of cheese consumption in Canada is expected to fully absorb the additional market access we’ve provided to EU cheeses within as little as two years.I n this growth context, we’ve secured a phase-in of the EU’s market access over 5 years starting only once the agreement comes into force which will be approximately 2 years from now. That means it’ll be effectively 7 years before the EU fully realizes their additional access to the Canadian market, making the anticipated impact minimal.
“We will monitor the impact of the Canada-EU Trade Agreement on dairy producers’ income and, if production levels are negatively affected, assist them financially. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada intends to communicate the details on a potential compensation approach as soon as it would be possible. “
Our Government recognizes the importance of ensuring that Canada’s municipalities have the ability to support local interests.
That’s why we ensured that CETA will preserve governments’ flexibility to give preferences to Canadian companies through grants, loans and fiscal incentives.
Furthermore, CETA will not affect the ability of municipalities to use selection criteria such as quality, price, technical requirements or relevant experience, or to consider social and environmental factors in the procurement process.
Moreover, projects below a certain dollar value are excluded from the agreement’s obligations altogether. So too are items purchased for commercial sale, or services like research and development, financial services, public administration, education or health care.*
CETA procurement obligations apply to procurements set at a much higher value than the Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT); therefore CETA applies to a fewer number of procurements.
At the same time, and more than ever before, our towns and cities are looking to make the most efficient use of each and every tax dollar. Local taxpayers are demanding more value for their money. An expanded procurement system will help them do just that.
Finally, a trade agreement with the EU would give Canadian businesses access to the largest procurement market in the world, worth about $2.3 trillion annually. That means more jobs and opportunities for businesses and workers right here in Canada.
For more BC benefits visit http://actionplan.gc.ca/en/page/ceta-aecg/benefits-british-columbia