Time to Talk About NAFTA
With Barack Obama and the Democrats looking more and more likely to sweep the U.S. election on Tuesday (knock on wood), we are faced with the real possibility that they will follow through on their promise to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. They will, of course, be looking to gain further advantage for the U.S., and particularly for U.S. workers.
But what about Canada?
The fatal flaw in NAFTA, as in most other free trade agreements, is that it tends to favour corporate interests above all other considerations. One result of this has been the string of lawsuits filed under NAFTA’s Chapter 11 over the past 15 years by transnational corporations against governments who presume to implement policies or pass regulations that interfere with their ‘investors rights’ (i.e. profits). While many of these suits have been brought against the U.S. and Mexican governments (with several aimed specifically at California), Canada has always been a favourite target because of our more stringent regulatory regime and our fondness for keeping things like health care out of private hands.
Two cases which have made the news recently illustrate the danger:
NAFTA-based suit threatens Canada’s medicare
Suit seeks to open Canadian health care to privatizers
… a group of 200 private investors led by Arizona businessman Melvin J. Howard is planning to use the NAFTA national treatment mechanism to pry open Canadian medicare — often described by neoconservatives as “the last great uncracked oyster in the North American marketplace.”
Howard and his partners want to open a private surgical centre in B.C. similar to the Cambie Clinic owned by Dr. Brian Day, past-president of the Canadian Medical Association, but are facing what they call anti-American roadblocks in several municipalities.
And even more recently:
A company that makes the commonly used herbicide ingredient 2,4-D is challenging the Quebec government under the North American Free Trade Agreement for banning its product.
The Canadian unit of Dow AgroSciences alleges the prohibition of the weed killer is without any scientific basis and in violation of the trade agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico.
Other NAFTA-based corporate lawsuits and trade actions against Canada have involved the Wheat Board, Canada Post, a ban on a toxic gasoline additive, (we lost that one), and perhaps most disturbing – repeated demands for commercial bulk water exports.
If Obama really is serious about re-negotiating NAFTA, we must demand that our government use the opportunity to protect the public interest and remove Chapter 11.