Less Than Free More Than Trade

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By Ann Emmett

“Freedom is participation in power.” – Cicero

The basic truth about “free trade,” of course, is that what is negotiated away is national sovereignty and the public interest, democracy, and justice.

Without deception and secrecy this corporate drive for power would never have succeeded.

Excerpts from Canada After Harper and The Great Transformation, together with the following six articles provide a good overview of so-called free trade. They clarify its benefits and losses, and identify its winners and losers.

That Canadians still tolerate free trade agreements is a clear indication of how little many of us understand free trade. Not our fault! Everything possible and affordable is done to see that we don’t.

And yet, growing numbers, both in Canada and around the world, have struggled valiantly against growing numbers of trade deals.

But it isn’t enough to fight this deal or that deal. It’s long past time to go to the root of the problem – time to expose and reject the very concept of free trade.

What these trade agreements have meant for Canada is summarized by Scott Sinclair and Stuart Trew, in an anthology edited by Ed Finn, Canada After Harper.

Sinclair and Trew identify as “the defining feature of the modern free trade era, [the way] it has changed the role of the state when it comes to governing national economies” (page 113).

Since Canada committed NAFTA, “free trade agreements” – they point out – “have little to do with trade. They are Constitution-style documents that substantially weaken democratic institutions in the interest of freeing (from government intervention) the trade- and investment-related activities of multinational corporations. Government interventions of all types (e.g., public health and environmental regulations…) are severely constrained by international trade and investment agreements – a strategy the Liberals fully bought into after the 1993 election” (page 114).

The pattern is one of “significant concessions to US policy makers – on trade as well as sensitive security, immigration and privacy issues” (page 114).

“Under NAFTA…Canada has been the most-sued developed country in the world. Most of these disputes involve challenges to regulations, such as those put in place to protect the environment or manage natural resourses” (page 123).

What is essentially being traded in these deals is well expressed in the statement, “at heart, this trade agenda is about empowering corporations by disempowering democratically elected governments” (page 130).

These agreements have seriously diminished Canada’s reputation throughout the world, and sadly compromised our role within it.

“Successive governments in Canada have backed Canadian mining and other corporations through the promotion of investment treaties and free trade agreements that create binding legal obligations to respect the investment of foreign firms, and a powerful investor-state dispute process, parallel to domestic courts, that is not accessible to ordinary citizens.

“Canadian-based mining firms are currently pursuing investor-state claims worth billions of dollars against El Salvador, Costa Rica, Venezuela, and Ecuador” (page 120).

The Canada-EU Trade Agreement

“This is about curbing the ability of governments, at all levels, to regulate the activities of multinational corporations, and curtailing the domestic authority of governments to respond to public demand for stronger regulation, expanded public services, local job creation and economic development” (page 122).

“The EU agreement will restrict the ability of governments, at all levels, in both Canada and the EU, to provide public services” (page 124).

“This agreement will extend drug patent terms by up to two years…two respected experts in this field have estimated the costs to Canada at $850 million annually, which significantly exceeds the total annual savings from the elimination of Canadian tariffs on European goods entering Canada” (page 125).

“The Trade In Services Agreement (TISA) is being undertaken in Geneva. A series of leaks from inside the secretive talks…show that the negotiating group is entertaining proposals for locking in the privatization of public services, further deregulating the financial sector…and unleashing cross-border commercial health services that will be detrimental to public health care systems, including possibly Canada’s” (pages 128-129).

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