The All-But-Secret Trade Deal Between Canada And Europe Needs A Close Look

Robert Assange need to be free so he can create some wikileaks buzz around all-but-secret but all-but- done trade deals that will lock Canada into policies that ban most of the tools needed to protect a local and sustainable food supply, no matter who wins the next federal elections.

Discussions leading to an all-embracing “bilateral” deal covering Canada and 26 European countries went into their fifth and near-final round late this fall when Canada’s low-profile minister of international trade revealed a deal with Europe was part of a package of some 50 free trade deals.

“In just four years, we have negotiated free trade agreements with eight countries,” Minister Peter Van Loan said on October 18. “We are holding free trade talks with nearly 50 others, and expanding and improving the three agreements signed by the previous agreement.” That would be a new and improved NAFTA, which back in the day (some 20 years ago) actually aroused fierce debate and political polarization.

Van Loan bragged in his announcement that Canada will be the only country in the world to sign trade deals with both Europe and United States, the largest economies in the world (look who I’m playing with, mama). As a result, he said, in “this year’s Economic Freedom of the World index, Canada maintained its position as a leader “of free trade.

At this point, I have two confessions of ignorance to make.

First, I remember when Canada used to win awards from the United Nations as the best country in the world to live in, but I knew nothing about the Economic Freedom of the World index. I actually had to resort to Wikipedia to find out that this gold standard of indexes was sponsored by the Fraser Institute, which Wikipedia describes as a “libertarian thinktank,” using “a definition of economic freedom similar to laisser faire capitalism.” I hadn’t known that there was this other prestigious award program or that actually picked little old Canada as a world leader.

Second, I confess that I hadn’t known this major trade deal inside a more major set of trade deals was in the offing right under my journalistic eyes. I read Van Loan’s announcement, and then followed his directions to the website posted by the Canadian government to keep people abreast of negotiations that have been ongoing since 2008. The website specifies that this is more than a trade deal because it encompasses investment and overall regulatory policies dealing with competition, labor, environment and patent protection.

Regulatory is a nice little world to slip in, since few people know that regulatory changes don’t have to be taken before parliament or debated in public; they are just adopted by private and confidential meetings of cabinet. Since this is the last time anyone gets to hear about changes that will be going down, the web page does provide an email address anyone can submit comments to. Perhaps this process could win a Fraser Institute award for web democracy in the new world of economic freedom.

The fact is, I have been sleepwalking my way past this news with the best of them, kept ever so busy with the flood of e-mail services covering my little specialty, food. It wasn’t until I was invited to speak at the National Farmers Union in Saskatoon earlier this month that I heard from a panel of people involved in trying to wikileak this lurch in government policy into public consciousness. Thanks to unsung leakers, panel members had a working draft of the agreement as it was in April 2010. Not available on the government website, this can be accessed at , website of the coalition of trade deal critics.

It’s fitting that I learned about this deal at a farmers’ union convention because food and agriculture will be most profoundly affected, for the simple reason that the industrial sector has been finished off by earlier free trade deals, most notably NAFTA.

The most advanced efforts to bring governments onside with new economic programs addressing a progressive environmental and social agenda have come from food enthusiasts pressuring local governments linked to the MUSH sector – wonk for municipalities, universities, schools and hospitals — into buying local and local-sustainable food.

I’ve been rubbing my eyes for some time, wondering why such initiatives have produced no real pushback from big businesses linked to food globalization. I just didn’t know where to look. Such local purchasing projects will be verboten in the deal with the EU, which, as in the EU itself, outlaws discrimination against any European company that wants to sell to or invest in any public, and perhaps even non-profit and charitable contracts, says Steven Shrybman, panelist at the NFU and a 20-year veteran of trade law debates.

Other provisions of the trade agreement will discourage farmers from the age-old practice of saving their own seeds, said panelist Terry Boehm, an acknowledged expert in intellectual property rights as well as NFU president. Indeed, Boehm cites certain provisions of the deal permitting courts to seize assets of farmers alleged by companies (but not proven by courts) to have taken patented seeds from seed, chemical and drug (they are mostly linked) corporations.

The deal isn’t much about trade, said panelist Michael McBain of the Canadian Health Coalition. “It’s not a trade agreement. It’s really an attack on government,” he said.

Reading my notes on that helped me understand what lay behind the mystery I felt after reading the in-depth critique by Jim Stanford, economist for the Canadian Auto Workers and author of an important review of the deal for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Canada now imports about $1.50 from the EU (mostly Germany) for every dollar in goods and services it exports; most of the exports are raw resources and almost all the imports are knowledge- and job-rich manufactured goods and services. There seems to be nothing for Canada in this deal – unless, that is the point, and the agenda has to do with backdoor openings of laws that accomplish such Conservative agenda items as abolition of the Canada Wheat Board and the supply-management system in dairy, poultry and egg farms, about the only part of agriculture where family farmers make a fulltime living.

Lest we forget trade deals from back in the day, NAFTA will be automatically updated to incorporate any agreements with European powers. Since NAFTA forbids any NAFTA partner from treating another NAFTA partner less favorably than any other country, the EU deal must be extended to the U.S. and Mexico.

That obligation makes this the most sweeping trade deal going. As a result of resistance from rising middle powers in the Global South – the BRIC group of Brazil, India and China — the World Trade Organization has been unable to engineer a new world order in one move. This EU-Canada deal is second best; in the absence of colonies from the Global South, the leading colony in the Global North will have to do.

(adapted from NOW Magazine, December 30, 2010 to January 5, 2011; for the article in NOW and accompanying chart and graphic, please see for December 30)


  1. Monsanto uber alles, eh? Well, it does seem to be the next logical step given their global groupthink exposed in Food Inc. I remember a British TV show in the early 1990′s that featured a semi-retired policeman who was also a chef with his own restaurant. One episode slams the EU food agreements because chef is not allowed to buy, cook or serve locally grown heritage tomatoes. Now such nonsense will be worldwide?! And Harper will get to cut more government, no doubt — maybe even =disband= food inspection altogether since it would be essentially pointless in the burst-dam of global food flooding in. I’m glad I’m old. This is not a world I wanna live in.

    Keep up the good fight, man. Thanks for this.

  2. anon says:

    I think you mean Julian Assange, not “Robert Assange.” Cheers!

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