By Richard Toews. Stephen Harper and his Trade Minister, Ed Fast (MP, Abbotsford), would have us believe that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a good thing for Canadians. From a purely economic proposition, that might appear true, as Tiff Macklem, Senior Deputy Governor of the Bank of Canada pointed out to the Economic Club in October: “if Canada is to maintain economic growth, it needs a rotation in demand towards exports and business investment” (John Ivison, National Post, Dec. 8, 2013). This “rotation in demand” comes in the form of the TPP.
What exactly is the TPP? The short answer is that the TPP is a free-trade pact being negotiated among 12 Pacific Rim countries. The TPP is an ambitious effort to shape a comprehensive agreement that would not only reduce tariffs and other barriers to open markets, but establish standards on a range of issues affecting trade and international competition. “Currently a dozen countries that in total account for almost 40% of the global economy. As the largest economy, the U.S. is seen as the leader of the negotiations. The other nations, in order of economic size, are Japan, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Malaysia, Singapore, Chile, Peru, New Zealand, Vietnam and Brunei. South Korea has expressed interest in joining. (Los Angeles Times, Feb. 19, 2014).
How did Canada’s involvement in the TPP come about? As Ivison points out, “during the Great Recession, the number of Canadian firms exporting fell by 20%, or 9,000 firms. Exporters either went bust or turned inward and exports remain $35-billion below pre-recession levels.” Canada was hemorrhaging; a new economic plan would staunch this wound, but following the NAFTA model was not a viable option. In that deal (NAFTA), hundreds of thousands of North American jobs were lost to overseas interests. Simply put, North American labour was severely short shrifted.
What does Fast want us to know about the TPP? Ivison points out that the majority of respondents to EDC’s Trade Confidence Index said they believe global economic conditions will improve in the next six months, even if the stimulus taps are turned off in the U.S. and Europe. This followed a similar improvement in the spring. This improvement, however, must be seen in its context. Buy American is back and threatens to become a recurring feature in all public works spending bills, with major implications for jobs and investment in Canada. Fast is negotiating a deal which will try to solve once and for all a lingering problem closer to home: Buy American protectionism in the U.S. On the surface of things, that seems like a good deal. The truth of it is that the Americans are ramping up their own strategy to establish an economic alliance with Japan, which, in the long run, may have catastrophic effects on the Canadian economy; Canada might effectively be shut out of potentially lucrative markets.
From appearances it looks to Canadians as though Fast, Harper, and the Conservatives have a view towards the protection of Canadian jobs. But protection from what? From the American perspective “failure to strike a deal on “Buy American” would lead to calls for retaliatory measures on sub-national infrastructure projects in Canada” (Ivison). Clearly, then, Fast and Harper, it appears, want us to believe Canadian sovereignty is at the heart and soul of their negotiations. Who, among us would disagree? But as in so many things political, not all is what it appears to be, as anyone who has ever had any dealings with a carnival shill would tell us.
But if Canadian sovereignty is at the heart of the TPP negotiations, if the welfare Canadian households is primary, why, then, should these meetings and the content of the meetings be held in secret, and why the urgency? Another question might be what will Canada get for Fast and Harper’s blessing?
If we are to believe the Council of Canadians, the TPP “could lead to the dismantling of Canada’s important supply management regimes for dairy, poultry and egg production; extreme intellectual-property protections for big drug companies that would limit access to life-saving medicines; investor-state provisions that would allow companies to sue governments over rules to protect the environment; government procurement restrictions and copyright rules that undermine Internet freedom”.
What will be the final cost to Canada should this deal be ratified? In terms of Public Health and access to medicines: The U.S. is using the TPP to push for excessive patent protections and other intellectual property rights that are guaranteed to make medication much more expensive in Canada and even inaccessible to the poorest countries involved in the negotiations. Across the world, health advocates claim it is a matter of life and death that we say no to these changes in the TPP.
With respect to the environment, the reality is the TPP cannot and does not pretend to help reduce emissions or protect the earth. It will however put a screen on all environmental policies to make sure they do not hurt trade and investment. The only winner from this situation is climate change.
Presently, Eli Lilly is suing the Canadian government under the rules of NAFTA for $500 million dollars. Eli Lilly claims that the Canadian courts were wrong when they allowed other companies to make generic cheaper versions of two of its drugs after their patents had expired. If the TPP goes ahead, law suites such as Lilly’s may very well be the order of the day. Canada will be at risk every time a profit-seeking corporation with a grudge comes looking, and it will be taxpaying Canadians that pay the bill.
If the TPP agreement is in keeping with Fast, and Harper’s notion of “what is best for Canada,” than I have to wonder what their Canada really entails. Certainly, such a Canada is not a welcoming place for those who do not fit the neo-Con model; such a Canada is not an inviting place to those who struggle with the exigencies of life. Fast and Harper’s Canada is a place reserved for the idle few who eagerly march in step, shoulder upon shoulder, with an economic order that has little tolerance for the mass majority of people who have, by the sweat of their brow, and the their toil and their labour beat out a place where freedom and tolerance for the other has been a beacon. Sadly, Fast and Harper would eagerly smother that beacon with a thick and heavy, black veil.