Elections 2008 - Canada must renegotiate NAFTA now!

    MONTREAL and OTTAWA, Oct. 1 /CNW Telbec/ - Given that the North-American
Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is emerging once again as an issue in the US
elections, the Harper government has been quick to praise the agreement in an
obvious attempt to avoid renegotiating it. We, civil society networks and
organizations from Canada and Quebec, say: not so fast!
    For Common Frontiers-Canada and the Québec Network on Continental
Integration, the idea of reopening NAFTA should not be dismissed so easily by
our political leaders. This agreement not only has fundamental problems which
need immediate attention, but its most notorious aspects are being reproduced
in all the other 'free'-trade agreements Canada has negotiated since.
    An example of an aspect of these types of free trade agreements that is
unacceptable in a democracy is the dominating role that the private sector
plays: only the large companies have privileged access to key government
officials while all other sectors of the society including elected members of
Parliament, are excluded. Not content with the corporate-friendly provisions
already built-in to NAFTA, the private sector began to agitate post 9/11
around the need to deepen NAFTA while bowing to US demands that Canada and
Mexico take on as their own the US's security agenda.
    Taking a page from the corporations play book, government leaders from
Canada, Mexico and the US met at the Bush ranch in March, 2005 to announce the
launch of the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP). The
SPP has since taken the role of corporate domination to new heights with the
formation of the North American Competitiveness Council (NACC) composed of
thirty CEO's from the largest corporations in North America, which was
announced in 2006. The government Ministers responsible for the SPP portfolio
sent this message to the NACC's corporate leaders: "Tell us what we need to do
and we'll make it happen".
    Another NAFTA measure that the public should find unacceptable is the
'right' given to corporations to sue governments when the latter adopts public
policy measures that corporations claim may harm their investments. This
provision found in NAFTA's infamous Chapter 11 produces a chilling effect on
governments whenever they consider introducing tougher legislation or widening
the rules to protect the public interest, out of fear of being sued by foreign
investors. The Chapter 11 Investor/State provisions can be triggered by any
one of many reasons, for example: because a foreign investor was not given
'equal treatment' to a national investor; because a government conditions an
investment to making use wherever possible of local goods and services;
because a government prevents a foreign investment from proceeding if it could
affect the health of a local population; or because a foreign investor
considers that it was not generally treated in a fair and equitable way by a
government. All these investors' 'rights' can prevent a government from
adopting a national or regional development strategy. We call for the removal
of Chapter 11 in any future NAFTA renegotiation because it constitutes in
effect a charter to protect investors' 'rights' under which the signatory
countries transfer sovereignty in to the hands of private interests.
    In addition, another aspect of NAFTA that needs to be re-examined,
particularly in this period of unstable oil prices, is the 'proportionality'
clause found in NAFTA's Chapter 6 because it endangers our future energy
security. After seeing this clause during the NAFTA negotiations, Mexico
demanded and got an exemption. A new study Over a Barrel: Exiting from NAFTA's
Proportionality Clause(*) co-authored by Gordon Laxer and John Dillon, examines
how the NAFTA prevents Canadians from exercising sovereignty over our own
energy supplies. Far from being an "energy superpower" as Prime Minister
Harper claims, Canada is actually an energy colony, serving the USA's
voracious appetite for non-renewable hydrocarbons ahead of our own needs.
    Lastly, under NAFTA, our Federal government is priviledging the
protection of investors' rights above all other considerations while embedding
similar provisions in all its other negotiations. For example, despite the
fact that Parliament's Standing Committee on International Trade has
recommended that Canada not proceed with a bi-lateral trade deal with Colombia
given the gross violation of human rights occurring in that country (the
systematic killings of dozens of trade unionists every year being particularly
heinous), the Canadian government recently announced that it had completed the
negotiation of a free trade agreement with Colombia, and that it expected to
ratify this accord before the end of 2008. We demand that, in the future,
human, social and cultural rights and guarantees take precedence over the
financial and commercial rules governing dealings between countries.
    It is now time for the candidates in these elections to focus on NAFTA
and on the over all free trade agenda that is contributing to making Canada a
much more unequal place to live in.
    The Québec Network on Continental Integration and Common Frontiers-Canada
insist on not having future development in our societies entrusted to the
market's the so-called invisible hand. The next government of Canada must
commit to an extensive debate on the creation of an alternative model of
integration - one that privileges the equitable distribution of wealth and
guarantees, peoples' economic, social, cultural and environmental rights, over
and against the ambitions of the trans-national corporations and their quest
for profits at all costs.

    (*) To see this document go to www.commonfrontiers.ca and scroll down to
        the title.

For further information:

For further information: Rick Arnold, Common Frontiers, (905) 352-2430,
comfront@web.ca; Pierre-Yves Serinet, RQIC, (514) 276-1075, rqic@ciso.qc.ca

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