Trade Negotiations Put Ontario Green Initiatives At Risk
By Dan McDermott
When Canada was negotiating NAFTA with the US and Mexico, the t-shirt of the day read:
Not Another F____ Trade Agreement
Environmentalists at that time were told continuously that NAFTA would not put our environment at risk. This promise proved hollow. After NAFTA was enacted corporation after corporation challenged Canadian environmental rules as being barriers to trade. Many of these applications succeeded. The chill that this created was often cited as a reason not to pass environmental protection legislation.
Now our federal government is at it again. The Harper Government is going all out to strike sweeping trade agreements with the European Union (EU) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). And this time the environmental threat is clear. Ontario Government green energy and local food promotion activities are already in foreign gun sights as programs to be eliminated.
The Green Energy Act has made Ontario the North American leader in green energy development. The Act’s requirement to purchase equipment manufactured in Ontario has succeeded in making our province one of the few North American jurisdictions to create new manufacturing jobs during the current economic downturn. European wind and solar suppliers are already challenging this provision before the World Trade Organization (WTO). An absolute abandonment is being demanded by the EU as part of any Canada-EU deal.
Ontario’s effort to promote Ontario produced food products is likewise under the gun. Direct agricultural subsidies and import restrictions are the primary target but so too are local food procurement policies as well as government supported initiatives to promote the purchase of local food. The day may not be far off where we may see all governmentally sponsored promotion of Ontario food challenged. Foodland Ontario signs on produce bins may be said to be a de facto subsidy. Will even the mandatory labeling of the country of origin be contested? Promotion of local food through tax exempt charitable foundations? Such exemptions could well be challenged as just another subsidy in this context.
The so-called free traders are at odds with environmental regulation in the broad sweep. To these “globalists” the environment is an inconvenient externality and environmental law and regulation are viewed as restraint of trade. The very concept of “food miles” is anathema to their vision of trade trumping every other concern including that of protecting our environment. Climate change you say? Not on the free trade radar screen.
So what can Sierra Club and the people of Ontario and Canada do to thwart this Harper Government juggernaut to abandon all environmental principle and regulation on the altar of globalized trade?
A June 21st Globe and Mail article on the ongoing trade negotiations, authored by Gary Mason, was headlined “Clandestine nature of talks should cause a commotion” and sub headed “Nowadays, international trade deals are made with relatively little public scrutiny or outcry”. The Globe header shines a light on our path forward. Public awareness and scrutiny are our starting points. The next step is organization and a coordinated defense of Ontario and Canada’s environment in the face of a trade juggernaut that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.