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The following Letter to the Editor was sent to all of the daily newspapers in Atlantic Canada from Wayne Lucas, CUPE Newfoundland and Labrador President, and Angela Giles, Atlantic Regional Organizer for the Council of Canadians.

To the Editor:

In a continuing effort to hand our democratic rights over to multinational corporations, Stephen Harper has engaged Canada and the provinces and territories in an overwhelming free trade experiment with the European Union. The deal, called a Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), goes well beyond what most of us would understand as trade. CETA is designed to limit the types of economic and social policies that Newfoundland and Labrador can put in place.

With a sixth round of trade talks just concluded in Brussels, Belgium, it’s moving along too far and too fast for our liking. In letters and meetings with the provincial government, we’ve been explaining our concerns with some of the ways CETA goes well beyond trade to interfere with important domestic policies.

  • In the area of fisheries, in return for lowering high tariffs on fish products going into the EU, the EU is seeking changes that would limit our ability to protect fisheries resources and fish processing jobs. These include the elimination of export restrictions on unprocessed fish and foreign ownership limits in the fish processing industry, and new rights for EU boats in Canadian waters.
  • On procurement, The EU wants Canadian municipalities and provinces to ban local preferences (eg. buy local policies, local hiring or local food quotas, etc) on public tenders. The stated objective is transparency but the goal is for EU multinational companies to pick up a bigger share of local and provincial projects. We can have transparency and good value without banning social procurement initiatives.
  • Health care is threatened by EU demands in the intellectual property chapter, which would delay the introduction and availability of cheaper generic medicines.  The EU objective is to protect the profit-making rights of Big Pharma by extending patents and data protection on new products. Drugs are already at a huge cost under MSI and any savings we hope to achieve here will be thwarted by CETA.
  • The EU also wants water utilities, and drinking and water treatment services included in the deal, which would put pressure on municipalities to privatize water systems and give favourable treatment to large EU-based private water firms such as Veolia and Suez. Combined with the procurement chapter, it will be impossible for NL communities to get the most employment and environmental benefits out of needed water system upgrades.
  • Farmers may lose the right to save seed, forcing them to buy from multinationals such as Monsanto and Cargill each year. The Canadian Wheat Board could be undermined or eliminated. Threats to Canada’s successful “supply management” systems, in particular in the dairy sector, are a big concern. Even the smallest changes to milk quotas or tariffs could put thousands of farmers out of work.
  • Finally, we remain deeply concerned that the CETA will include an investor rights chapter like NAFTA’s Chapter 11, which will empower European corporations to sue Canadian governments for profit-limiting public policies. After the regrettable $130 million settlement of Abitibi Bowater’s NAFTA chapter 11 claim against Newfoundland and Labrador, the federal government said it expected the provinces to foot the bill for any future investor-state challenges involving provincial measures. Had NL been allowed to go to court without interference from the Harper Government, we have all the confidence that we could have won this argument in court.

Had the provinces been signatories to NAFTA, Newfoundland and Labrador taxpayers would be footing this bill. NL can hardly afford this new cost.

As we have expressed to members of the Provincial Government’s negotiating team, NL needs to be explicitly raising the above concerns with the other provinces and Canadian negotiators. Without a clear position, we are concerned our province will be dragged into “signing on” to the final text in a rush to reach “consensus” and an agreement.

In the face of a relentless effort on the part of some of the largest, European-based multinational corporations in the world who seek to open up the rules, standards and public spending priorities of our province and its municipalities - without regard to the benefits or negative effects for us - we expect Newfoundland and Labrador’s and its citizens’ best interests to be protected.

Angela Giles
Council of Canadians
Atlantic Regional Organizer

Wayne Lucas
Canadian Union of Public Employees – NL