Talks to renegotiate Canadas Agreement on Internal Trade are targeting public services and government regulations, mirroring the global trade agenda at the provincial level.
The AIT, a deal between the provinces, territories and the federal government, came into effect July 1, 1995 shortly after NAFTA and the World Trade Organization. It helps extend international trade agreements into areas of provincial authority by requiring provinces to ensure the measures they adopt and maintain arent a barrier to international trade.
Business representatives are pushing for broader coverage, stronger enforcement and a greater ability for corporations to challenge government policy measures. The corporate lobby sees this agreement as the crowbar that will force open public services to private companies especially within health, energy and social services.
Corporations also want to eliminate local supplier preferences that allow governments and crown corporations to support regional economic development. In addition, the business to-do list includes eliminating or reducing government regulations such as minimum standards and requirements concerning health, safety and fair treatment of consumers and workers.
Business also wants to raise the stakes by turning this political agreement into one thats legally binding, with NAFTA-style investor state provisions that would bring increased costs to governments who refuse to comply with the decisions of trade dispute panels.
In 1998 CUPE played an important role in stopping the expansion of the AIT to public services in the areas of health and social services. In British Columbia school and municipal supply contracts were also excluded.
This round of AIT negotiations renews the fight to maintain the exclusion of health and social services, including the exemption of contracts with non-profit providers. It will be equally important to retain the exclusion of Crown corporations and the energy sector, while preventing the AIT from becoming legally binding and maintaining decision making by consensus among the provinces and territories.
Public consultations took place last year as part of the renegotiation process, leading up to a national consultation in April, 2001. Public sector supporters have intervened at every stage to ensure this mini-NAFTA doesnt become a mega-problem for Canadians.