The Europeans are coming

A new trade deal could increase Yukon exports to Europe at the expense of its environment and aboriginal rights.

A new trade deal could increase Yukon exports to Europe at the expense of its environment and aboriginal rights.

The two parties have nearly completed their Canada-European Trade Agreement, or CETA, though the year-long talks have been conducted with little fanfare.

Canada’s main exports to Europe are raw natural resources, so the deal could have a significant impact on the Yukon’s mining, oil and gas industries.

For example, gold exports to Europe are Canada’s single most valuable export, bringing in more than $5 billion dollars a year.

A draft of the trade deal was leaked this past summer. Since then, those for and against the pact are citing the same examples to make their case.

Canada’s free trade deals with the United States, Mexico, Israel, Chile and Costa Rica have bolstered trade, but often to our detriment – we’re shipping raw materials and importing high-cost manufactured goods, according to a report by Jim Stanford, a Canadian economist who works for the Canadian Auto Workers and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

His 44-page report Out of Equilibrium paints a grim picture of the coming deal with the EU.

He predicts a rise in Canada’s current $19-billion annual trade deficit with the EU and the loss of up to 150,000 jobs.

The auto workers’ bias is showing again, just as it did during the drafting of the North American Free Trade Agreement, says Canada’s Federal Minister of International Trade Peter Van Loan.

“History has proven that the arguments that he and his union made in 1988 were wrong,” says Van Loan. “They are just as wrong now. Every other credible economist has indicated that there are significant economic benefits to be achieved by this agreement and that is what we saw with the joint study, which shows the $12 billion annual benefit.”

The joint study, or Sustainability Impact Assessment, was released in August and does predict an annual increase of $12 billion for Canada’s GDP.

But that growth will come at a cost, damaging the environment and causing substantial social problems at home, especially in aboriginal communities.

The joint study specifically notes severe problems with mining, oil extraction and aboriginal rights and claims in the North.

Water and local procurement practices are two more concerns topping the list of CETA impacts for Council of Canadians’ trade campaigner Stuart Trew.

Canada’s federal negotiator has confirmed the European Commission has made it a point to include “water services” within the agreement and to establish direct contact to sub-national governments, says Trew.

“The combination of including water services in the services chapter, of increasing investor rights in the investment chapter and then giving corporations these new rights in the procurement chapter, spells the recipe of widespread privatization, and I think it’s fairly clear that this is what the European Commission is going for.”

Municipalities should be at the negotiating table, says Trew.

The Union of British Columbian Municipalities has already filed an official resolution to their provincial leaders, asking for exemption from CETA.

Municipalities are not at the table, but are represented by their provinces and territories, who are.

The territory has two officials attending the negotiations.

There’s also a Yukon government committee working on CETA issues with representatives from all departments, says Stephen Rose, director of policy and planning for Economic Development and one of the territory’s delegates.

The territory is focussed on equal access, not protectionism, when liberalized trade barriers take effect, says Rose.

However, the environment is a national issue, he says.

“It’s not something that really Yukon is taking a specific or sole position on because it’s of great interest to Canada and the EU,” says Rose. “It is a subject of discussion, but it’s not a subject I’m able to go into a lot of detail on at this point. Obviously we’re part of that negotiating team with Canada and as such were not, sort of, able to discuss a lot of detail about negotiating positions during the negotiating process.”

First Nations are not at the negotiating table. Their interests are to be represented through Ottawa, say both Rose and Van Loan.

They haven’t had any requests from First Nations to represent themselves at the talks, says Van Loan.

Besides, it’s far too late in the process for them to do so, he says, noting negotiations should be wrapped up by the end of next year.

The economic benefits will outweigh the environmental costs and those promoting protectionism and worried about the loss of local businesses should study the damage the US “buy-American” restrictions are causing in Canada, he adds.

“Canada is a small country whose economy is two-thirds dependant on trade. If we start losing access to other markets it will cause great harm to our economy and our economic growth and our prosperity depend entirely on an ability to continue exporting – whether it be our natural resources, or our manufactured products or our services.”

Trade agreements create jobs and prosperity. And signing this agreement would put Canada in a very unique position, he says.

“If we have this agreement in place, we will be the only developed economy in the world with free trade agreements in place with both the European Union and the United States of America – the two biggest economies in the world. That means if you’re looking for place to invest to operate from and have access to the two richest markets in the world, Canada becomes the only place in the world, the only developed economy in the world, where you have the opportunity to do that.

“That’s a tremendously strong, competitive position. That’s why it’s so important that we move quickly on this trade agreement and why we have been moving so quickly.”

However, the speed of negotiations and secrecy that have defined them so far, beg the question: What is being overlooked?

The Sustainability Impact Assessment was only a draft inception report. Actual assessments will be conducted in both Canada and the EU over the next few months, Trew says.

The most important point is the fact this assessment has been commissioned and financed by the European Commission, he says.

“It’s unbelievable that not only did we rely on European economists for the joint study which led to pursuing these negotiations … But now we have Europe conducting the only impact assessment of the deal on Canada and the EU. We don’t have the Harper government showing any concerns on the impacts this might have.”

“We do do our own research, but I don’t tend to comment on the details of what’s going on in the negotiations,” says Van Loan.

“I let all that stuff be carried out at the negotiating table. I try simply to avoid public comment on that.”

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at