Negotiations for the Canadian-European Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) are being conducted by the Harper government in secret. The agreement, if passed in its current form, would not only be full of the same flaws that have marred previous Canadian free trade agreements, but would introduce a few special problems of its own. Unfortunately, federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair has yet to oppose CETA. This is a serious mistake by the NDP leadership as CETA has been opposed by the labour movement, and both environmental and progressive organizations.
The most pressing and specific problem in the CETA is what it would add to “intellectual property”, especially in the field of medicine. The European Union is pressing Canada to adopt its pharmaceutical patent practices, which would add 2.66 years to the length of patents on drugs. It seems likely that Canada will cave on this point. This means that it will take longer for “generic”, and therefore cheaper, versions of drugs to reach the market. Studies have concluded that this could cost Canadians up to $2-billion per year in extra drug costs; this money will go to directly to Prime Minister Harper’s charity of choice — the pockets of monopolistic corporations.
More generally, workers in Canada have never benefited from corporate free trade agreements. After the creation of the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in 1988, disposable income and wages dropped as unemployment and corporate profits soared. This is, of course, the intent of the bosses who use free trade to pit workers against one another. Make no mistake; the CETA will have similar results. Already, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has predicted that Ontario alone will lose 13,000 to 70,000 jobs if tariffs are removed on manufactured goods. This will be the case for workers in both Canada and Europe, with whom we must stand in solidarity against this “agreement”.
The CETA, like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) before it, will also include regulations that prevent governments — federal, provincial, and municipal — from passing any sort of legislation that negatively impacts the profits of a corporation, and give corporations the right to sue governments if these rules are breached. Amongst other things, this will destroy the ability of governments to make policies to protect the environment. Under NAFTA, Quebec had a $250-million lawsuit filed against it last November when the province attempted to ban hydraulic fracturing, a mining practice that is known to cause dangerous chemicals to leech into, and contaminate, water supplies.
Unions recognize the problems with CETA. The Canadian Union of Public Employees, as well as the Ontario Federation of Labour, have both opposed the deal. The City of Toronto, along with 50 other municipalities, has even asked for exemption from the terms of the CETA, rightfully fearing that the CETA will seriously impede on local governance.
Unfortunately, there has been a notable lack of opposition from the leadership of the NDP. Thomas Mulcair has said that he wants to wait to see the content of the agreement before he makes a decision to oppose it; however, with so much of the of the proposed agreement already laid out, it is not hard to see that the working class will be hit hard by CETA. Furthermore, to expect good results for labour from free trade agreements negotiated by the Conservatives is completely utopian The NDP must abandon this equivocation and stand up for workers and the environment. The NDP, as the party that represents Canadian workers, must oppose the CETA and oppose capitalist free trade agreements. There is nothing positive in this agreement for Canadian workers.