Public Values

Legal opinion warns against secret trade talks

CETA would empower European and American corporations at the expense of provinces and territories.

Moist: If signed, CETA will override areas of provincial jurisdiction set out in the Constitution.OTTAWA, ON, July 10, 2012: Canada's premiers are being warned that the proposed Canada-EU trade deal will limit provincial and territorial powers, fundamentally reshaping the constitutional landscape. The warning comes in a new legal analysis urging full public disclosure of the deal's details before it is signed.

Concerned that the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) is being negotiated behind closed doors, with no public debate about what Canada is trading away, the Canadian Union of Public Employees commissioned trade lawyer Steven Shrybman to review leaked CETA negotiating texts.

Shrybman concludes CETA will give European corporations new rights at the expense of provincial powers. CUPE has sent the opinion to all provincial and territorial leaders in advance of the Council of the Federation meeting later this month.

  "It's time to hit the brakes on CETA and end the secrecy surrounding these negotiations."

"We're sharing this opinion with the premiers as a wake-up call. The federal Conservatives are negotiating a de facto corporate bill of rights that will trump provincial powers over natural resources and public services. If signed, this deal will override areas of provincial jurisdiction set out in the Constitution. This deal can't fly under the radar any longer," says Paul Moist, national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

CETA will give European corporations the right to sue governments for decisions that affect the profitability of their investments. If CETA is signed, European investors will be able to challenge public regulation and decision-making in secret tribunals, suing for compensation.

"It gets worse. Under NAFTA rules, any rights CETA gives to European corporations automatically become the legal right of North American corporations," says Moist. "That's a major expansion of a deal that already gives corporations too much power. The decision by an international tribunal to compensate Exxon Mobil and Murphy Oil for a Newfoundland government requirement to provide research and development in order to access the province's resources gives us a taste of what's to come if CETA includes investor-state dispute resolution."

CETA includes areas of provincial power that have never been covered by international trade deals, including natural resources, drinking water treatment and delivery and health care. There are wide variations between provincial efforts to protect their policy and regulatory power through exemptions. This will create a patchwork of protected areas of government regulation and public policy, literally fragmenting Canada's constitutional landscape.

CUPE is urging provincial and territorial leaders to protect public services and provincial powers by withdrawing their support until all CETA's details have been disclosed and discussed.

"It's time to hit the brakes on CETA and end the secrecy surrounding these negotiations. Let's have a full and open public debate about what's in the deal — and the consequences for all Canadians," says Moist.

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  Legal opinion urges provinces to put brakes on secret CETA talks

Posted: July 19, 2012

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