Opinion: John Manley’s 5 Points for CETA Don’t Add Up

By Drew Wilson

John Manley, chief executive of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, recently wrote an opinion piece in which he offers five points on why everyone should be supportive of CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement). Drew Wilson responds with his own rebuttal to the piece.

While I was getting swamped by the flurry of news stories yesterday, I kept in the back of my mind one thing: every time there’s a new development on CETA, there’s always a fresh volley of propaganda from its mega corporate supporters. True to form, this is what happened. CETA has been delayed yet again. I guess those little nitty gritty details, those last minute details, those last minute kinks to iron out or whatever other comments supporters said suggesting that it would take nothing to sort out turned out to be a slightly bigger deal. Then again, this is the kind of delay that just doesn’t surprise me one bit. After all, I’ve been following the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) closely and these are the kinds of “little” details that have delayed that agreement for a year or so now. With the same kind of thing happening with CETA, I’m really not surprised that a delay was going to happen.

Another thing I’m not surprised is the fresh volley of pro-CETA propaganda being lobbed by pro-mega corporate entities. In fact, when latest piece came out, I was practically waiting for it. The things I anticipated was a piece with vague comments about opening trade, how any trade deal is good for Canada, denials that there is anything wrong with CETA and absolutely no shred of evidence to back up these opinions. That’s pretty much what I got plus a few other points that just simply shows what kind of bubble pro-CETA lobbyists live in.

The piece offers a premise of how the United States is somehow copying Canada’s “trade” deal. Because the United States is copying what Canada is doing with Europe, then, according to Manley this should speak about how great CETA is. This point alone is very laughable because it simply ignores the reality of international trade today. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has already been going on for years. Three seconds of research would reveal that this is a trade agreement between Canada, the United States, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia and several other countries. Then there’s the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) which was a “trade” agreement between Europe, Canada, the United States, Mexico and several other countries. Acting as though CETA is a new and innovative idea that the US is now only just beginning to copy is faulty at best and a complete fabrication at worst. In fact, amidst the TPP negotiations, there were howls of complaints from these same people saying that Canada is late to the trade talking game and that Canada is lagging behind in all these “next generation” agreements.

Using this flawed perspective, Manley then goes on to say, “Odd, then, that even at this late stage some are publicly questioning whether the proposed Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CETA) is worth the trouble.”

The problem here is that critics of CETA are complaining about far more than CETA simply being a long process. There’s the complete lack of transparency (all concrete information about CETA at this stage are obtained through leaks), there are concerns about the ability for local governments to invest in their communities, there’s the high profile supply management problems, there’s the concerns about patent provisions – particularly through generic pharmaceuticals, there’s concerns about the environment, and there’s concerns about the intellectual property provisions which contain anti-circumvention laws and could even contained the deeply flawed “three strikes law”. For some, this isn’t just whether or not CETA is worth the trouble, it’s more of a threat of an assault on the integrity of the nation and our sovereignty.

Manley then lists five points why CETA “matters”. The first argument is that the trade deal will increase access to European markets and, thus, create jobs. Unfortunately, Manley doesn’t really provide any proof that this will be the case with CETA outside of a comment by one organization that says this will reduce paperwork. Unlike Manley, we have evidence that suggests the exact opposite. Back on the 7th, one of the things we reported was a study that suggests that CETA will cost Canada 3,800 jobs. Forget job growth, the question is, how many jobs will, in fact, be lost due to CETA. The study was conducted by the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives which also apparently found that, in the province of Manitoba alone, CETA could stop the investment of $5 to $8 billion into local economies. So, we have Manley saying that it will increase jobs and prosperity and we have evidence to suggest that the exact opposite is true. According to the report on NUGPE, the study also found the following:

– curtails regional and local economic development options and advanced manufacturing;
– restricts capacity to derive benefits from mining and natural resources;
– would increase the costs of public services and curtail the ability of the province to deal with emerging issues such as climate change, economic volatility and new technologies;
– would increase the costs of pharmaceutical drugs in Manitoba by up to $81 million annually; and
– could expose provincial and municipal governments to litigation from foreign corporations.

This goes over top of another finding that CETA could cost Canada $2 billion just in pharmaceuticals.

CETA, remember, is very comprehensive and spans several sectors. So these are just small fractions of what CETA could cost the Canadian economy. It’s unlikely we’ll ever know how much damage in total CETA could do to the Canadian economy before it’s in the process of being ratified.

Manley goes on to make his second point that if Canada finalizes with deal, we’ll be the first country in a trade block with Europe. There’s a very straight forward response to this: major trade deals also shouldn’t be rushed. In addition, what if the trade agreement turns out to be a raw deal for Canada in the first place? Rushing through just for the sake of history will be meaningless in any positive sense if the trade agreement is poorly thought out. Is Canada going to be rushed into racing right off an economic cliff with this trade deal? If this trade deal is so historic and so positive, why can’t people even see what is in the agreement in the first place? If the trade deal is so great in the first place, then why is there such a need to hide the details in the first place?

The third point by Manley is that the elimination of tariffs would help with the price discrepancy between Canada and the United States with various goods and services. With CETA, those discrepancies will be eliminated. Now, let me explain how things work in the real world. Take, for instance, milk. In Canada, milk costs more than in the US. Why is there a discrepancy? One reason is the fact that the US government subsidizes milk sold in the US which can drive down the cost. Another reason is that Canadian regulations for milk are seen as more strict which means there is a higher standard expected before milk hits the Canadian shelves. If CETA somehow removes tariffs, trade barriers and government regulations in both Canada and the US (I’m not entirely sure how since this agreement is more between Canada and Europe), then the cost of milk in the US would rise and the quality of the milk in Canada would be reduced.

To add to this, even if the cost for Canadian goods were to drop, what’s to stop larger companies from merely pocketing the profits rather than pass the savings onto consumers?

Manley’s fourth point is that Canad needs to diversify where Canada needs to export as there is an over-reliance on exporting in the US. I definitely agree on the point that Canada needs to diversify export destinations, however, CETA also changes various laws that have little to do with trade in the first place. If provisions governing things like intellectual property were removed, there would be far less resistance towards these trade agreements. ACTA was allegedly about stopping counterfeiting, but ultimately, counterfeiting was only one part of the agreement. The TPP is suppose to be about opening up trade relations with Asian markets, but it wound up being about how corporations are allowed to be above the local laws and about intellectual property laws that have little to do with trade relationships to name two examples in that complex agreement. CETA is suppose to be about trade, but is, once again, about changing laws that have little to do with general trade. If CETA is merely a trade agreement, keep it about trade and remove provisions that have little to do with trade.

Manley’s last point is a rather confusing point. My attempt to summarize it would be that if Canada goes through with CETA, then we can increase trade with Asia. It’s weird because Canada is already in the TPP which is something these pro-corporate lobbyists wanted in the first place. With Canada also in CETA as well, it technically makes the Asian markets seem off topic. The TPP does not hinge on CETA’s success. It’s possible to have one without the other and the European markets are different from the Asian markets. Manly then ends the last point with the following:

A Canada-EU deal that addresses issues such as agricultural protection and promotes intellectual property as a driver of innovation will improve our country’s brand and signal to the world that we are capable of negotiating a modern, far-reaching trade agreement.

Since I know what kind of intellectual property provisions are in CETA, I can safely say that stopping someone from legally breaking the DRM on a CD is worlds apart from increasing trade between countries. Increasing copyright terms from 50 years after the authors death to 75 years after the authors death also won’t help the spice flow. I also don’t see how suing alleged file-sharers for hundreds of thousands of dollars for downloading something that costs less than a dollar as an improvement on a countries image nor do I see disconnecting elderly people from the Internet because someone hacked their WiFi as something that boosts a countries reputation.

Once again, this piece by Manley proves to me that CETA supports don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to saying that CETA is any good for Canada. They don’t offer any solid evidence nor can they prove any of their critics wrong because the text is still made secret. The fact that negotiators will not hear from all stakeholders also harms the reputation of CETA because any agreement with only a small handful of stakeholders representing one side of certain debates will make the agreement one-sided (and, in this case, very anti-consumer and/or anti-citizen) Hiding CETA behind closed doors with plans to make it a “take it or leave it” agreement after it is finalized screams out “this agreement can’t be trusted and should be rejected” to me. I don’t trust this agreement one bit and CETA negotiators, various government agencies and their supporters have given me absolutely no reason to trust it either. Manley’s piece is no exception to that.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85

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