TPP: Canadian government as corporate cheerleader in trade lawsuits

CW – meat & the meat industry.

On December 18, 2015, the day that the U.S.’s country-of-origin labelling (COOL) laws were struck down, a pair of high-profile Trudeau cabinet ministers celebrated.

“This is a real vindication of the power and significance of the WTO dispute-resolution mechanism, which has secured a real win for Canada,” said International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, while Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay proclaimed his intention to ensure that the law stayed dead: “We will be monitoring the situation to make sure there are no problems in this area.”

Freeland and MacAulay weren’t alone in celebrating COOL’s demise; The Western Producer, an agricultural-industry trade publication, crowed that “Canadian cattle and hog producers are getting their Christmas gifts early this year,” and added some effusive quotations from industry spokespeople:

“After all these years, it’s wonderful news,” said Canadian Cattlemen’s Association president Dave Solverson about repeal of labelling legislation that the CCA and others have fought since 2008.

Solverson noted the support of the federal government, past and present, in pressing the issue through the World Trade Organization. The WTO ruled in Canada’s favour four times, supporting the contention that COOL violated international trade rules. [my bold]

What was COOL, you ask? Well, it was nothing more than this: a law (and a popular one at that) which mandated that meat be sold with a label indicating what country it was grown and slaughtered in.

If that sounds like a totally reasonable regulation, you’re not alone. Pretty much the only folks who didn’t like this law were meat-producers, slaughterhouses, and meatpackers in Canada, Mexico, and the United States, and of course their loyal lackeys in government.

(If you’re also sick of the federal government constantly fighting on behalf of meat producers, you’ve got a friend in this grumpy vegan, but that’s another post for another day.)

So Canada and Mexico sued the United States through a provision known as ISDS, or Investor-State Dispute Settlement, at the WTO. ISDS allows corporations to sue nations for profits lost due to regulations which “unfairly” favour a country’s domestic production over imports in areas covered by trade treaties.

The WTO (an unelected and unaccountable global court) found in favour of Canada and Mexico and empowered them to place punitive tariffs of up to $2 billion per year on the United States until COOL was repealed. Congress quickly acted to end the long-fought-for law, enacted in 2009, and consumers in the United States once again have no idea where the meat in their grocery stores comes from.

The ruling is obviously a blow to the local-eating movement and the smaller producers who serve that market, as well as to consumer-rights advocates.

But it’s also an egregious example of the Canadian government being reduced to a corporate cheerleader in a case that pits corporate profits against people’s interests.

We saw this dynamic once again this week, when TransCanada announced that it will be suing the United States for $15 billion under the ISDS provisions in NAFTA. The U.S. government recently denied TransCanada’s application for a permit to construct the hotly-disputed Keystone XL pipeline, and TransCanada is asking for a recovery of the costs it invested in the project to date, as well as damages resulting from the project’s rejection.

Though Prime Minister Trudeau and his cabinet have yet to comment publicly on this lawsuit, it’s well worth remembering that in his very first days as PM, Trudeau and his Global Affairs Minister, Stephane Dion, stuck their necks out on TransCanada’s behalf, urging US President Barack Obama to approve the long-delayed pipeline.

Obama announced the project’s rejection literally the next day.

It’s easy to read the government’s silence on this as tacit support, especially given the massive favours they’ve already done the oil/extractive industry in their super-soft “reforms” of the National Energy Board process for reviewing proposed pipeline projects.

What is certain is that they are extremely supportive of the ISDS process – the Liberals describe themselves as “proudly pro-trade” and have embraced the Harper-negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership, which expands ISDS to include a pool of twelve Pacific nations, many of whom have much weaker regulations than Canada and whose corporations could quite conceivably successfully challenge Canada’s labour, environmental, and consumer safety laws at yet another unelected, unaccountable tribunal.

The Liberal’s support is either deeply misguided or a signifier of their deep contempt for the public, because Canada is the most-sued nation under NAFTA’s ISDS provisions, and most of those lawsuits have targeted Canada’s environmental and health regulations. The Canadian government has been forced to pay out tens of millions of dollars and re-allow toxic products, including damaging neurotoxins, back onto the Canadian market. Pending and ongoing lawsuits could add hundreds of millions of dollars and untold environmental damage to that tally.

Any government which advocates for the expansion of a paradigm in which regulations are shaped to the will of corporations, sometimes through legal action and more often through the fear of it, is obviously going to be thoroughly in the pocket of those same corporations. And this stance of the Liberals’ should come as no surprise to anybody, given their late-election-campaign dithering and prevaricating on the TPP long after it was clear to trade experts just how toxic the deal was.

Opposition to the TPP continues to grow – prominent critic Joseph Stiglitz expressed optimism recently that the awful thing is doomed to die in the US Congress – but Trudeau and the Liberals are pushing in the opposite direction. After opposing a legally-binding emission-reduction deal at the COP21 Paris negotiations, the party is now advocating the passage of the very-much-legally-binding and environmentally-destructive TPP, all while basking in an image of environmental progressiveness for rhetorically committing to an ambitious climate goal which their actions will prohibit them from ever achieving.

(Sorry for being a Debbie Downer again this week, folks – the gov’ment made me do it!)

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