The Council of Canadians website is filled with excellent information in understandable language which has deepened my grasp on the erstwhile confusing political conundrum that is Harper and his gang of feckless followers. The following quote is an explanation of the Canada-China trade agreement that the Harper government is trying to undemocratically punch through to ratification:
WHAT IS A FIPA?
The Harper government’s new investment pact with China fundamentally undermines democracy. It will give Chinese firms in Canada and Canadian firms in China 31 years of “protection” – from environmental, human rights or resource conservation measures they don’t like. It gives companies and private investors the right to sue Canada or China in controversial private, unaccountable tribunals outside the court system.
As a net importer of Chinese investment, especially in energy and resources, the treaty will compromise what we can do to better manage mining and energy projects. Globally, mining and oil companies have used their excessive corporate rights in trade and investment treaties to bully or punish governments that don’t give them the project approvals they want.
Even when a project was cancelled or improved because the community demanded it, multinational oil and mining companies have demanded hundreds of millions in compensation. Investment panels have obliged them with ever growing awards paid by governments to corporations. This is of the greatest importance given the need to power down the tarsands and stop proposed pipelines to the west coast.
What is the Canada-China investment treaty?
The Agreement between the Government of Canada and the Government of the People’s Republic of China for the Promotion and Reciprocal Protection of Investments is a bilateral investment treaty similar to what Canada has included in its free trade deals, or standalone investment deals (FIPAs), since NAFTA. These corporate rights pacts allow companies to sue governments when they feel their investments or profits have been undermined by public policies, including public health or environmental measures, or by delays to energy and resource projects.
These bilateral investment treaties (BITs, as some countries call them) have proliferated over the past decade to the point where today there are over 3,000 in effect between countries. Canada has dozens of FIPAs in place, mostly with developing countries where Canadian mining and energy firms want to establish or expand projects, with as few obstacles as possible. For example, the Harper government just announced the conclusion of a FIPA with Tanzania and is beginning negotiations with Nigeria. The right to sue the host country for policies or decisions they don’t like is very attractive to Canadian mining profiteers.
But in reality, this investor-state dispute process has been unambiguously harmful to Canada. Because of the investment protections in NAFTA, we are the sixth most sued country in the world, and the federal government has paid out $157 million in awards and settlements to foreign investors. It is perverse that Canada continues to pursue ever larger investment treaties with China, with the European Union through the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), and in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations, which Harper recently joined.
Let the oil profits flow freely
The investment pact with China will notably allow Chinese energy companies, once they are established in Canada, to threaten the federal, provincial or territorial governments against imposing environmental rules on tar sands production, pipeline construction and other projects. Delays or denials on energy and mining investments could result in costly lawsuits outside Canada’s courts, which will be settled by unaccountable private arbitrators with a vested interest in the outcome. It’s a corrupt process to begin with, made more so by the lack of transparency in this particular investment treaty. It will be up to the Chinese government whether any of the investment lawsuits are made public or not.
Chinese firms are almost certain to make use of their new treaty protections as they increase their investments in Canadian energy and resource projects, including through the planned CNOOC purchase of the Canadian energy firm Nexen. About one in five investor-state lawsuits relates to resource extraction, and at least nine of the NAFTA investment lawsuits against Canada involve resources. For example, U.S. firms Exxon Mobil and Murphy Oil had no qualms about suing Canada under NAFTA because they did not like having to transfer a portion of their profits into research and development in Newfoundland and Labrador. A private NAFTA tribunal ruled earlier this year against the R&D measures. Canada is on the hook for another $65 million, most of that to be paid to 2011’s richest company in the world (Exxon).
There IS an alternative
Ideologues like the Harper Conservatives will argue that investment treaties are an important tool for attracting foreign investment to Canada but there is no evidence to back this up. On the other hand, the evidence keeps piling up that the pacts undermine democracy by making corporate rights to profit more important than environmental and other social priorities. In a very real sense, this China deal and other investment pacts are tools for locking in and expanding controversial resource projects like the tar sands in Alberta, the digging of mega-quarries in Ontario, or hydro-fracking for natural gas across Canada.
Last year, the Australian government, faced with the threat of investor-state challenges to public health measures related to cigarettes (plain packaging laws) and environmental regulations on coal-fired plants, decided it would not negotiate protections like the ones in the China-Canada deal into its own trade deals. If companies wanted to invest abroad, they should take out insurance instead of dumping the financial risks onto the Australian public. When companies invested in Australia, they should have no greater rights than local companies whose disputes with government policies must go through national courts.
We can still TAKE ACTION on this website’s letter writing page.
Demand parliamentary hearings into the Canada-China investment pact!
The latest update from the Council of Canadians website regarding actions being taken follows:
First Nations Demand Harper Government Honour Constitutional Duty to Consult Regarding the Canada China FIPPA
(Coast Salish Territory/Vancouver, B.C. – December 14, 2012) On November 29th, the Chiefs Council of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs passed by consensus, Resolution 2012-59, Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPPA). As directed by resolution, the UBCIC is working with other First Nations and organizations who are deeply concerned that the Harper Government may take steps to enter into the FIPPA without fulfilling its constitutionally-enshrined and judicially-recognized obligation to consult with First Nations.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the UBCIC, stated “The UBCIC calls on the Harper Government to ensure that Canada fulfills its duty to consult and accommodate First Nations on FIPPA consistent with the principles of Free, Prior and Informed Consent as identified in Article 19 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Any further effort to ratify this agreement will adversely impact our inherent rights and territories forcing First Nations to take immediate legal action.”
“The Federal Government has not acted with due diligence and have clearly not fulfilled constitutional obligations they have to either the First Nations or the Provinces,” says Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians. “These obligations must be met before even considering the ratification of something that will give 31 year access to the resources in a way that could undermine Indigenous rights and the environment. For Stephen Harper to rush ratifying this agreement behind closed doors would be completely unacceptable.”
“Tens of thousands of Canadians have spoken out against the secretive and extreme Canada-China FIPPA because it would grant foreign companies the power to sue Canadian governments in secret tribunals if our democratic decisions impact their expected profits – even local decisions to create jobs, or protect our air, water and health,” said Julia Pope from Leadnow.ca. “We are grateful for the leadership of First Nations who are opposing this deal and the affront to their constitutionally-protected aboriginal rights and title that it represents.”
“First Nations expect the Stephen Harper Federal government to inform First Nations immediately if they take the position that they are not required to consult with First Nations prior to the final steps that will bring the FIPPA into force so that we can seek the assistance of the Court “said Brenda Sayers, Councillor of the Hupacasath First Nation. “Any effort to ratify the FIPPA in a hasty manner that violates the government’s duty to meaningfully consult and accommodate would taint the honour of the Crown.”
For further information contact:
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President, Union of BC Indian Chiefs: (250) 490-5314
Dylan Penner, Media Officer / Agent des Médias, The Council of Canadians: (613) 795-8685
Matthew Carroll, Campaigns Director, Leadnow.ca: (289) 244-9930
Brenda Sayers, Councillor, Hupacasath First Nation: (250) 731-4147
This is a long dissertation, but, well worth the read to clarify the current state of affairs regarding trade treaties.
Today’s “stone” is Day 355 comprehension, clarification, understanding, and alarm, no wonder Canada’s government is facing huge financial debt