Islanders need more information about comprehensive trade deal

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Free Trade Deal

By Debbie Bovyer (guest opinion)

We have not heard a lot from our federal and provincial governments about the Canada and European Union (EU) Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

This deal was signed in principle in the fall of 2013. However, to my knowledge, no public or industry consultation has taken place in Prince Edward Island. There is no question that a trade agreement of this scope and magnitude will affect the Island economy.

The public needs to be aware of CETA and have a chance to provide feedback before a formal signing of the agreement takes place.

Many organizations have expressed concern that CETA is not primarily a “trade deal” and is more about granting corporations extensive rights and powers. Under CETA, government authority and control over the actions of multi-national corporations are limited. The agreement contains investor state provisions that allow corporations to challenge the decisions of government about their own jurisdictions, outside of Canadian courts.

For example, the province’s decision to halt fracking in P.E.I. until a full environmental assessment is done could be challenged by a corporation.

This is already happening in Quebec where a corporation is suing the government under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for over $250 million. Public pressure in Quebec led the government to impose a moratorium on fracking; however, the corporate world wants the final say. In fact, under NAFTA Canada is facing almost $2.5 billion in lawsuits involving investor protection for corporations.

If there really is so much to gain from CETA as both the federal and provincial governments are saying, then why is the Newfoundland and Labrador fisheries industry receiving $400 million in compensation? The answer is that N.L. gave in to EU demands to remove minimum processing requirements (MPR) from the industry in exchange for freer access to the European market. This is a change in policy for N.L. and involves risk. The fish processing sector is important. It adds value to the industry, creates more jobs, and is part of sustainable management practice.

In P.E.I. we should be careful about giving up the option to have MPR in place. In different market conditions it could be a very important policy option to have. Who knows what the state of the lobster market will be in 20 years? We have already seen instability in prices and market conditions. Why would the province want to give up the authority to ever be able to implement MPR? The provincial government has not negotiated any compensation for the fishery at this point but recently expressed a need for fair treatment concerning the agreement.

In regard to agriculture and dairy, CETA will give the EU a much larger piece of the fine cheese market which could hurt local producers like ADL. The Island dairy industry will also assume an estimated $2.5-million loss as milk production is predicted to decline.

Health-care costs will increase under CETA with the extension of patent protection on brand-name drugs that will cost Islanders as much as $6 million annually. The expansion of our public services will also be threatened. CETA gives investors the right to sue if a government attempts to reverse a public service that has been privatized. This means government will need to be vigilant about keeping existing public services in place. If they are privatized, making them public again will be very difficult and costly.

The union believes it’s important that the federal government make the full text of CETA available to the general public as this agreement affects us all. The province can help build understanding as well by holding public consultations on CETA so Islanders can offer their valued input.  

Debbie Bovyer is president of the Union of Public Sector Employees.

Organizations: European Union, MPR, NAFTA Canada Union of Public Sector Employees

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Canada, Quebec Newfoundland and Labrador

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