Paul Manly is the International Trade and Investment critic for the Green Party of Canada.
The TPP: A Bad Deal for Canada
The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a proposed international trade agreement between Canada and 11 other nations representing 40 per cent of the world’s economy. The latest rounds of negotiations have failed to conclude a deal.[i] That doesn’t mean that the TPP can’t become a reality, but it does allow time to continue to build opposition to it.
The TPP is a bad deal for Canadians and deserves far more scrutiny. It could limit our access to generic drugs, erode health, labour, safety, consumer and environmental standards, threaten the viability of the CBC and Canada Post, eliminate our supply management system, make minor digital downloading of copyright material a criminal offense, turn internet service providers into internet police and end Canadian content rules for culture industries.
The Green Party is the only Canadian party to oppose the TPP. The Conservatives and Liberals support it. Neither of these parties has seen a trade or investment agreement they didn’t like no matter how much of Canada’s sovereignty it surrenders (with the exception of the Liberal Party’s initial opposition to the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement in 1988). NDP leader Tom Mulcair is “enthusiastically in favour”[ii] of the TPP even though NDP policy opposes trade agreements with anti-democratic Investor State provisions.
What makes the TPP so dangerous is that it gives corporations additional rights and powers, while limiting those of governments and citizens. The negotiations are being carried out in secret, with input from corporations, but none from labour, environmental, health, safety or consumer groups. Canadian MPs don’t have access to the negotiation text.
Leaked documents are giving some insight into the breadth and scope of the TPP. The Intellectual Property chapter [iii] would extend patents on pharmaceuticals. This would delay generic drugs from coming on the market and cost Canadians billions in extra drug costs. That would also have devastating effects in developing countries, where generic drugs mean the difference between life and death for millions of people.
The anti-democratic Investor State Dispute Settlement chapter [iv] in the TPP gives foreign corporations the right to bypass our judicial system and sue Canada for the loss of potential profit. This means that laws protecting labour, health, safety, consumer and environmental standards could all trigger challenges decided by corporate lawyers in secret tribunals, and cost Canadian taxpayers dearly.
Canadians have already paid out hundreds of millions under the Investor State Dispute Settlement provisions of NAFTA, and an additional $6 billion in disputes [v] is on the table. According to statistics from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD),[vi] Canada is on of the most sued countries in the world under these agreements. Other countries have been sued under Investor State agreements for putting health warnings on cigarette packs, increasing the minimum wage, protecting public health, banning nuclear energy and fracking and for a wide range of environmental policies.
The export of raw logs from B.C. has led to mill closures and devastating job losses. The priority of our governments should be to create favourable conditions for value-added industries that employ Canadian workers. Locking Canada into trade agreements that will only increase raw resource exports is a sell-out.
Another leaked document [viii] states that a “majority of TPP countries” have agreed that state-owned enterprises will have to “act on the basis of commercial considerations.” This means that the CBC and Canada Post would have to operate as for-profit corporations, not public services. This would severely undermine their mandate to benefit and serve Canadians.
The TPP could put an end to the Canadian content rules [ix] that have helped to establish Canadian music, TV and film talent. The TPP could also allow for the foreign take-over of the Canadian telecom industry.
Changes to the copyright act [x] under the TPP could include severe penalties for anyone, including children, downloading even minor amounts of copyrighted material such as songs, images or movies. Currently, the maximum liability for minor non-commercial copyright infringement in Canada is $5,000, but under the TPP that could become a criminal charge. It could change the fair dealing provisions of the copyright act and constrain journalists and media producers.
The TPP could put an end to Canada’s supply management system,[xi] which controls the price of some basic groceries such as milk and eggs. Some argue that foreign imports will reduce the price of groceries, but there is no guarantee that will happen. In fact, it will make our grocery bills more susceptible to fluctuations in the Canadian dollar. Typically, when the dollar goes down, consumer prices go up, and after the dollar recovers its value, prices do not go down again. More importantly, this change would affect the stability of Canadian farmers who rely on the supply management system to ensure that their farms remain viable. We should not be reliant on imported food.
The Conservative government has signed a series of trade and investment agreements [xii] with countries that are not democracies like ours and have very poor records on human rights and environmental standards. The Canada-China FIPPA (Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement) is the most egregious example. Chinese state-owned corporations will now be able to seek damages for the loss of potential profit from Canadian taxpayers when our democratically elected government passes legislation in the public interest. The Liberals have not demonstrated any opposition to these agreements. NDP Trade Critic Don Davies states that “New Democrats are willing to support flawed deals if they improve Canadian trade.”[xiii] Canadian interests are not a good enough reason to support deals like the TPP. These agreements not only undermine Canadian sovereignty and democratic authority, they also undermine the sovereignty and democratic authority of developing countries and stifle the development of their labour, health, safety, consumer and environmental standards. We should be working to help those countries improve their standards, not putting barriers in the way of their democratic and regulatory development.
Several of the eleven countries that Canada is negotiating the TPP with are undemocratic, such as Vietnam and Brunei, and have very poor labour and environmental standards. Malaysia and Brunei both have laws that punish gay, lesbian and transgender people. Brunei imposed a law that requires death by stoning [xiv] for people who have engaged in same-sex acts. These countries need to improve their human rights and environmental policies before we negotiate any kind of trade or investment agreements with them.
Trade and investment agreements should not deregulate corporate responsibility. They should not constrain governments from pursuing social goals that clash with corporate behavior. These agreements should not trump human rights or environmental protections. And they should not be negotiated in secret, our elected MP’s should have access to the negotiation text.
The Green Party supports fair trade [xv] that puts Canadian sovereignty and democracy above the rights of corporations, and allows governments to act in the best interests of citizens. The Green Party supports the creation of a Corporate Social Responsibility framework[xvi] that would regulate the behaviour of multi-national corporations, and prioritize human rights and environmental sustainability over corporate rights and profits.
As your Green Party MP I will vigorously oppose deals such as the TPP that threaten our democratic rights.