The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement being negotiated between Canada and the European Union is set to be one of the most ambitious trade endeavors undertaken by the Harper government.
Until recently, negotiations have been predominately kept in private and little detail has been explained to the public. On January 7, the CBC reported the leak of CETA documents, which unveiled many details of the negotiations. In light of this, heated debates have dominated the Canadian public in terms of how beneficial this trade agreement would be for Canada.
Ed Fast, Canada’s minister of International Trade, has reaffirmed that “our government’s top priority remains the creation of jobs, economic growth, and long-term prosperity for Canadians. One of the important ways we are doing this is by opening up new markets around the world for our exporters… We know that forging new and deeper trade and investment ties in key markets is one of the best ways to spur economic growth.”
Much can be said about this statement. First, it confirms Harper’s priority toward the creation of new jobs. Many would argue that his economic plans and policies were key factors in his success during the last national elections. Much of these economic plans have been focused on the Tar Sands, a locus of much controversy. The current trade negotiations fall under Harper’s vision of creating new jobs by opening new markets. Ed Fast is confirming that forging investment ties in key markets is essential for economic growth. However, taking into consideration the current economic situation of the EU, many would argue that perhaps the EU market is not one of the current ‘key’ markets. In fact, much investment since the 2008 financial crisis has been directed to the emerging powers also known as the BRIC’s (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) where economic growth has been far more stable.
As with any trade agreement, the negotiations spin around trade-offs. It is perhaps in Canada’s best interest to forge agreements such as this. However, they will not come without a cost. The question becomes, what cost is the Harper government ready to assume in order to achieve its economic goals? The Canadian government claims that “eliminating EU tariffs on Canadian chemical and plastic products, averaging 4.9 percent, would directly benefit Canadian exporters, workers, and their families. Also, that eliminating EU tariff barriers will increase sales of Canada’s fish and seafood products in the lucrative EU market of 500 million consumers. Besides, greater access to the EU services market, worth almost $1.4 trillion, would benefit businesses and workers in Canada’s vital R&D sector.”
However, it does not outline the costs associated with these achievements. For example, Canada is being asked to change its pharmaceutical patent regime, which would delay the release of generic drugs. This is just one of the costs associated with an agreement of this magnitude.
One of the main issues involving the disclosure of information is how transparent the negotiations have been. Trade talks may occur in private spheres in order to best protect the interests of the nations involved. However, accountability and transparency must be two upheld practices in the process.
The affirmation that this agreement will create new jobs sparks a set of criticisms. What kind of jobs are going to be created? What companies will benefit the most? Is the Canadian public ready to compete on an intellectual property rights level against the EU?
We must not stay passive while governments legislate far reaching and comprehensive deals that could negatively affect generations to come. This is not to dismiss the government attempts to achieve a better future for the country. Notwithstanding, we must be critical of what a ‘better future’ entails and we must question if the government’s vision for Canada agrees with that of the people.
Politics have been neglected to be the field of the ‘revolutionaries’ and ‘activists’; it has been mystified and its true value fetishized. The policies towards the Tar Sands and its impact on the communities involved, as well as its environmental effects, is another example of how important it is for the Canadian public to wake up. After all, as good old Aristotle would say, “Man is by nature a political animal.”