The TPP: Selling out Canadians, one 'trade deal' at a time

We will be told, of course, that this deal too will enhance trade, will enrich Canadians and will be good for our economy. All of this we will be expected to swallow whole. If this deal follows the usual pattern, none of it will be true.

By Larry BrownNational Secretary-TreasurerNational Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE)

photo of Larry Brown, National Secretary-Treasurer, NUPGEOttawa (22 June 2012) - The Harper government has made new trade deals a cornerstone of its policy agenda. Trade deals everywhere, with everyone, it seems.

The most recent announcement about this agenda was that Canada has been accepted into the negotiations for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a new trade agreement involving the U.S. and several of the Pacific countries.

Stephen Harper is many things, but he is no fool. He knows that these so-called trade deals are not the magic elixir for Canada’s economy. They actually cost jobs in Canada, and they are based on a completely discredited economic model.

These trade deals are a major part of the international corporate globalization agenda that has done so much to create economic instability, poverty, and huge income inequality around the world.

Free trade deals do not automatically increase trade. The more trade deals Canada has signed, the worse our performance has become. Exports to the majority of Canada’s trade deal partners actually grew more slowly than exports to non-free-trade partners, although our imports from free trade partners increased.

Free trade deals like NAFTA destroy jobs. It is widely understood by even supporters of trade deals that these agreements drive down workers wages and weaken unions.

But people who dislike government love trade deals. Free trade deals limit the ability of governments to govern the activities of corporations. That’s why right wing governments love them.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was a new model for these deals: described by trade expert Scott Sinclair as “a significant breakthrough for corporations attempting to secure protection for property rights and investor freedoms.” He says these are not so much trade deals as “clearly broader agreements restricting the role of the state in regulating the activities of international corporations. They focus exclusively on restricting government actions.”

Even proponents of the Canada European Trade Agreement (CETA) currently being negotiated agree that this new generation of trade deals is not really about trade per se. An approving article by the head of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the president of BUSINESSEUROPE notes that “As a second generation trade agreement, the Canada EU arrangement will focus on non-tariff barriers like standards, procedures and regulations.”

“Standards, procedures and regulations”, the kind of things about which democratically elected governments used to make decisions, will now be dealt with under international ‘trade’ deals.

And now it’s the TPP. We don’t know what Canada had to promise to even get in on these talks. It sounds like they had to virtually promise to get rid of supply management for Canada’s farmers, and had to accept everything already agreed to by the other countries without even knowing for sure what had been agreed to. But, we will be told that this is a victory for Canada.

Just how much these deals are designed to limit the ability of governments to actually govern business is underlined by the leaked text which has already been agreed to in the TPP. The TPP will limit the ability of governments to regulate foreign firms operating in their countries. This means foreign firms in Canada would have greater freedom to operate than Canadian companies. Apparently Harper has agreed to be bound by this even though it was negotiated before Canada got to the table.

Formerly secret documents obtained by media outlets also show just how hard Ottawa worked to worm its way into these talks. The Harper government promised that Canada would be “an ambitious partner” willing to discuss “any issue at the negotiating table,” including supply management and intellectual property. The documents make it clear that Harper promised to use his majority to railroad the deal through Parliament.

We will be told, of course, that this deal too will enhance trade, will enrich Canadians, and will be good for our economy. All of this we will be expected to swallow whole. If this deal follows the usual pattern, none of it will be true.

The extent to which the belief in free trade deals has become divorced from any analysis, or need for evidence, is made clear in a recent Globe and Mail headline: “While the benefits of joining the Trans Pacific Partnership are not clear, Canada cannot afford to watch from the sidelines.” Translation? We don’t know anything about this deal or why it’s good, but it’s a trade deal so it must be positive.

This government thought they had a clear path to signing on to CETA, except that the more people learn about what Canada is going to give up, the less they like it. Now even the premiers are saying they don’t want to be stuck with the new drug costs that would come from the EU deal.

In the same way, if the TPP negotiations follow the usual pattern, the more people learn the truth about the deal, about what we are being asked to give up and what this deal would cost us, the harder it will be for the government to sell us out.

Rather than negotiating trade deals like CETA or the TPP, which prevent governments from making decisions about the economy, the Canadian government needs to work in partnership with not just business but labour and the broader community to develop a modern industrial strategy that creates good jobs in Canada and protects our environment. 

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times? Not going to happen.


The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

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