Conservatives want Canada-EU Free Trade Agreement but should we?
By Bruce A Stewart
The Harper Government is often accused of having no vision. The Canada-EU Free Trade Agreement that the government is avidly trying to conclude puts the lie to that.
What’s less clear is whether the country and its citizens need the Canada-EU Free Trade Agreement quite as much as the government does.
Harper’s view of Canada is as the free trade crossroads of the world. We would have agreements in place with all the major trading blocs on the globe — and use our position bordering three oceans to act as a connector between them.
Since the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement in 1988, and its successor, NAFTA, we’ve done a few one-on-one deals, but none with the major players. Until and unless the Canada-EU Free Trade Agreement goes into place.
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This explains why Harper is busy this week twisting German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s arm on her visit to this country.
Spanning the world (to borrow Canadian Pacific’s old slogan from the days when it ran ships across the Atlantic and Pacific promising to move goods between Europe and Asia via Canada) means getting the Asian players on side. To do that, the link to Europe has to be in place.
But it’s a curious deal that’s being quietly negotiated.
Europe, for instance, wants Canadian municipalities to be wide open to European utility companies. No more reserving water systems, for instance, to be a part of the public sector.
Mind you, in Europe, municipalities are pulling their privatised systems back into public ownership and control. Were there Canadian utility giants, they’d be as locked out of that business as is the European sector. But our towns and cities, on the other hand, must be wide open to the Europlayers.
Doing business with Europe often comes with a multitude of costs. Formal entry to the European Union requires that countries adopt what’s called the acquis communitaire — the entire body of laws and regulations that make up the Union’s social and economic base — prior to admission. Trading partners (ask the Norwegians or the Swiss) end up having to do almost all of the same, but with no say as to the contents — and you pass the new ones as Brussels puts them forward.
Meanwhile, what’s apparently (our government is in its typically secretive mode over this negotiation) not on the table is inclusion of the Single European Act provisions. That’s the European law that requires each country to see each other’s nationals as “locals” — live where you like, go to school where you like, work where you like.
Labour mobility is probably the single biggest benefit Canada could gain — both ways. We’d be able to move to Europe to seek opportunities without paperwork or restrictions. We’d get the same from Europe — lots of skilled people seeking opportunities here.
But, as with the other agreements we’ve signed, opening doors for our citizens isn’t what’s on the table. Making life safe for corporate giants to plunder Canada, on the other hand, might well be.
Canadian exports are (sadly) mostly resources. Those are going to sell whether there are free trade agreements or not. Europe has practically no oil — not that we’ve bothered to build infrastructure that would go to Atlantic ports — it doesn’t have most of our minerals, and it’s not going to buy wood (they compete with us using Scandinavian forests all over the globe). We won’t move a drop or boatload more of any of that with this deal, and not a gram less without it.
Right now we can maintain fishery rebuilding on our East Coast, limiting the EU to French territorial waters off St-Pierre & Miquélon (south coast of Newfoundland) and east of the dividing line between Canada and Greenland (Denmark’s territory). One of the reasons Iceland won’t deal with the EU is that Europe always wants unrestricted fishing rights with its “partners.” Do we really want them to vacuum up what’s left in our Atlantic — Arctic — and Pacific waters?
It’s time Canadians woke up and demanded answers — before our “friends” in Ottawa give the store away. Again.