Attempts to expand global free markets via the World Trade Organization may have stalled, but the liberalizers are not resting on their laurels. Instead, the same pro-corporate, anti-democratic agenda is being pushed through a plethora of bilateral and regional negotiations.
One that is attracting increasing criticism is CETA – the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between the EU and Canada. Negotiated with next-to-no public awareness or consultation, the talks are due to be concluded towards the end of 2011.
The Council of Canadians is one of a growing number of organizations expressing deep concerns about the way CETA is shaping up. Stuart Trew, their trade campaigner, explains: ‘Everything’s on the table, including public services, water, energy. The threats to Europe and Canada are very similar, though the gains will be higher for European multinationals looking to privatize Canada’s public services and increase their investment in extractive industries.’
CETA would give sweeping new rights to corporations, says Stuart. ‘Canada’s only significant request is an investor-to-state dispute process that Canadian and US oil, mining, chemical and agricultural firms will use to sue the EU for compensation from public health or environmental measures that limit corporate profits. This process has been proven to put a chill on effective government policy. Canadians and Europeans need forcefully to resist these investment protections.’
Indigenous and environmental groups are particularly worried about how CETA might boost Canada’s most destructive industry – the tar sands. It could pave the way for tar sands oil to be exported to Europe for the first time, and allow European oil companies to challenge any attempts to limit the extraction of this dirtiest of fossil fuels.
This is all part, according to Stuart, of the Canadian government’s single-minded drive to make Canada an energy superpower. ‘Tar sands projects expand in size and number with little regulatory oversight. The Northwest Passage is being opened up to offshore drilling. Canada is earning a reputation as a climate criminal with little regard for UN efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Our government is helping kill Kyoto – it’s an embarrassment.’
All in all, CETA could have a profound and negative effect on democracy. Council of Canadians are pushing for an open, inclusive and comprehensive public discussion as a first step.
Get involved: www.canadians.org