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Letter: Deal with Europe a mixed blessing
To the editor:
On Oct. 18, the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) was signed in principle between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and European Union President Jose Manuel Barroso.
Harper described this as “a historic win for Canada.” It may be a historic win for some sectors.
If the agreement is ratified, beef and pork producers would have their sales quotas increase significantly and car producers would have the possibility of increasing their sales by a big margin.
However, there is a big downside to CETA to which the public has had virtually no access during the four years that the federal government has been negotiating it.
Should this deal be ratified, patent protection for brand-name drugs would be extended by up to two years, thus delaying the introduction of cheaper generic drugs and so costing patients or their health plans an estimated $1- to $2-billion per year.
Under CETA, there would be a much greater likelihood of water being privatized.
The City of St. Louis, Miss., has just succeeded in preventing the French company, Veolia, from seizing control of the public water supply there.
A similar struggle might well take place here should CETA proceed.
The Council of Canadians has stated that the “deal would give French companies Suez and Veolia, the two biggest private water operators in the world, access to run our water services for profit” and “charge far higher rates than public operators and cut corners when it comes to source protection.”
CETA could prohibit municipal and provincial governments from giving preference to buying local goods and hiring local workers.
It could encourage more privatization or public-private partnerships in such areas as transportation, energy utilities, health and social services.
In Europe and elsewhere, many communities have pulled out of such deals but have found it very expensive to return these services to public control again because of having to compensate the corporations for their infrastructure and equipment as well as for loss of potential profits.
Already, Canadian taxpayers have had to pay over $160 million in settlements to U.S. corporations because of a mechanism in the North American Free Trade Agreement whereby corporations can sue governments for lost profits.
This mechanism has been used more than 30 times to challenge Canadian public policies outside the court. CETA is expected to have a similar mechanism.
There is already a lot of mistrust about this deal. European corporations have insisted on full access to procurement by sub-national governments, including school boards, universities, hospitals and other provincial agencies.
In 2010, the Union of B.C. Municipalities passed a resolution that included a request that the B.C. government “negotiate a clear, permanent exemption for local governments from CETA.”
To date, more than 25 municipalities in B.C. have passed similar resolutions, including Vernon, Victoria, North Vancouver, New Westminster, Burnaby, Trail, Port Alberni, Cranbrook, Clinton, Nanaimo, Saanich, Powell River and Duncan.
The public should not have been left in the dark over such an important agreement, which the Canadian Parliament has not debated.
It must be ratified by all Canadian provinces and territories and by 24 European Union countries.
The B.C. government should not yet consider ratification but could hold public forums to give the people a chance to review the text of CETA and make comments.
There is still time to stop it.