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What You’re Really Trading, when Ottawa signs a new Trade Agreement.

Have you got any friends in Europe? France, or Germany perhaps?

If you do, you may want to call on them soon, and ask for some help.

It would be good if they were young; students or newly-employed perhaps. And if they belong to a union, even better. I say that for a couple of reasons; for one thing, union membership across the globe is becoming increasingly rare, and most of those who still carry a union card are older workers, closing in on retirement. They, might be helpful to some extent, but they’re not the ones that you’re going to need for this fight. No. You’re going to need forceful, energetic, stubborn, and passionate army. Organizers. Speakers. Idealists and Dreamers, and lots of them. They’ll need to be tough, intelligent and resilient, because they’ll be going up against some of the most powerful human forces, on the planet.

Forces like huge, multi-national corporations. The World Bank. The International Monetary Fund, The Bank for International Settlements, and an alternate, and untouchable legal system that governs the machinations of global trade, through something called the Investor-State-Dispute-Settlement, or ISDS.

Shadowy men, in shadowy places.

Think I’m kidding? Well have a look at the excellent work done by Buzzfeed News, in this series: http://goo.gl/8yiymD

If you haven’t got the time for that right now, here’s a short synopsis.

ISDS is an elite and exclusive club of international lawyers who arbitrate trade disputes between various nations. Obviously, having a means by which to settle such irritants that does not involve sabre-rattling, or armed force, is a good thing. Right?

But what if that same process allowed swindlers to steal $300-Million dollars from public coffers, and get away with it? Or, if it managed to get convicted criminals out of jail, and wipe away all criminal records connected to their wrong-doing? Or how about allowing a multinational corporation to poison a small village and its children with lead, for decades, and then absolving that company from any responsibility to clean up the mess, or pay for medical costs caused by the poisoning?

The ISDS, has done all three.

But, that’s just the start of it. So powerful is this star chamber court, that it can over-ride laws, or prevent regulations in almost any jurisdiction that comes under its scrutiny. And that includes the laws ratified by the Supreme Court, of any sovereign nation.

And the best part? There is no independent oversight of this body, and no means by which to appeal any of its decisions.

So what does all of that have to do with the price of butter? A lot, really.

In Canada we have something known as “agricultural marketing boards,” and it doesn’t matter whether you argue “chicken” or “egg”, both of them covered. Milk marketing? Yep. Wheat marketing? Check. Pork? Sure. Maple Syrup? Of course! In fact there are so many of these marketing boards that the actual number is hard to pin down. Somewhere between 80 and 120 is the most recent, best guesstimate.

What marketing boards do, is set a quota, and fix a market price for whatever commodity they govern, and thereby ensure that farmers have a relatively stable, and predictable pattern of costs and profits. The board makes sure that there is neither a market flooded, or over-stocked with a certain commodity, nor conversely, a shortage of that product for consumers, and that helps to eliminate the unpredictable boom and bust cycle of year to year production.

But what about your butter? Well, if Prime Minister Trudeau signs and ratifies CETA, the Canada-Europe trade deal, as he says he intends to do in Brussels this October, you can pretty much kiss those marketing boards goodbye. Why? Because the boards restrict trade, and set up different rules for different commodities from province to province, and thereby create an uneven playing field for foreign investment. That’s against the rules of international trade.

Without the boards, we are now in a free market environment, where international giants like Lactalis group, from western France, have an opportunity to compete with Fred the dairy farmer, from Embro, Ontario. I don’t know how much Fred’s butter costs per pound, but I do know that Lactancia, a Lactalis brand, is currently priced at six bucks a pound, in the local supermarket. That’s about 50 percent higher than the $3.99 I usually pay, for plain old Neilsen’s.

But why stop here?

Fresh Canadian water? It’s a commodity, and Nestle wants it.

Cheap Canadian drugs bought in bulk by provincial health systems? For how long, do you think? I’m guessing that Merck, and Bayer, and Pfizer, and several other pharmaceutical giants have the champagne on ice, longing for October.

But forget goods and commodities for a moment, and think about the wider implications for Canadian workers. Take the concept of a “Living Wage”, or even minimum wage. Does it seem impossible that these restrictive drags on corporate profit could not be challenged under ISDS? And if challenged, possibly set aside on the basis that they constitute an artificial tariff imposed randomly, and unevenly by provincial governments?

Or how about rulings that can suddenly change taxation policies, like a decision by Ireland to collect $14.5 Billion dollars in back taxes from Apple, after an EU panel ruled that the American company received unfair government aid in the form of taxes that were lower than other companies paid? You can read about that, here: http://goo.gl/APMcNZ

And since we’re headed down this rabbit hole, how about things like pension plans, health benefits, vacation time and the 40 hour work week? “Crazy!”, you say?  Well yeah, at the moment, maybe.

Make no mistake, treaties like CETA, NAFTA, GATT, The U.S. Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with Europe, and the TPP are increasingly binding nations to laws and rules that have nothing to do with democracy, individual sovereignty, national interest, or public welfare, and everything to do with corporate control, largesse and profit.

But thankfully, not all of this is happening in a vacuum. Three and a half Million Europeans have already signed a petition opposing CETA, and 70 percent of Germans oppose TTIP, the American version of the European deal. That’s why I’m suggesting that it’s time to contact everyone and anyone you know in Europe that may be opposed to these agreements, and ask to join in. And while you’re at it, drop Justin a line, and tell him that despite his claim this week that there is not much opposition to trade expansion in Canada, you, would prefer to differ. It wouldn’t hurt to do the same, with your local MP. If you don’t? Well, when your paying eight bucks a pound for designer butter from France, and your prescription costs are unbearable, don’t say that no one warned you.

 

scoturquhart@outlook.com

I'm a veteran broadcast journalist, producer, writer, and talk show gadabout. I like to play bad hockey, drink good beer, take sporadic rides on my bicycle and generally annoy my family with Dad jokes and selective memory. ( Lois the dog, excepted. )

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