Corporate elite grumbles over possible CETA failure

By Stuart Trew   | August 5, 2013   http://rabble.ca

Corporate elite grumbles over possible CETA failure

John Manley, the former Liberal deputy prime minister and current mouthpiece of Canada’s corporate elite, wants Prime Minister Harper to send a "high-level" political mission to Europe to save the stalled Canada-European Union free trade negotiations. Manley made these comments in an interview with The Canadian Press last week, a few days after publishing an op-ed in the Globe and Mail that argued "quitting [the CETA] is not an option."

"Prime Minister Stephen Harper launched the talks on Canada’s behalf, and he is the only person with the authority to make the hard choices that inevitably arise in negotiations this complex," he wrote on July 25. "On the EU side, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso must summon the political courage to carry his 28 member states over the finish line. No new issues or backsliding can be tolerated. The only acceptable direction is forward."

It is typical Manley — not a second thought for democracy, just big, strong leaders making tough decisions that will help us all in the end because they help Big Business.

Manley also doesn’t explain what would make this urgent political delegation different from the past two or three attempts to seal a deal, including Harper’s multi-country trip to Europe before the G20 summit this June.

But cut the guy some slack. The CCCE has not been paying as much attention to the CETA negotiations as past trade efforts or Canada’s current Asian trade and investment talks like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and bilateral negotiations with Japan. At least that’s how it seemed until now.

Is corporate Canada getting nervous? Maybe. And it’s probably not because of the actual payoff from a deal with Europe, which is flimsy. (See Public Citizen’s recent assessment of the value to the average American — a chocolate bar a month, starting in 2029 — of a proposed U.S.-EU trade deal.) This is about free trade machismo.

"Canada needs to demonstrate that it can reach an agreement with Europe if it is to have much hope of making headway in trade negotiations with emerging markets in Asia," wrote Manley in the Globe and Mail. "The government’s trade policy is dependent on this," he later told CP. "If we don’t do Europe, there’s not a lot to show for our trade policy."

The CP article explains that that the problems facing the Canada-EU talks include "counter-balancing Europe’s need to win greater access for cheese producers, with Canada’s demand that Europeans open the gate to Canadian beef and pork exports." As well, "Canada is being asked to accept stricter European standards on patent protection for pharmaceutical drugs, which provinces have resisted because it could push up drug prices by as much $2 billion annually."

The article also quotes trade lawyer Laurence Herman suggesting the government and business sector have not done enough to sell the benefits of CETA to the masses, "particularly as the critics — such as the Council of Canadians and other civil society groups — have been successful in underscoring the concessions Ottawa and the provinces must make."

So when might a Manley-endorsed high-level meeting be possible? Not until after the European vacation month of August, according to iPolitics.ca.

"One challenge that we face is that in the summer — August, usually — the Commission…this is their period where they usually close down, so it is more challenging right now to engage with them," Frédéric Seppey, Canada’s chief agriculture negotiator, told iPolitics at the U.S. Grains Council Annual Board of Delegates last week. "But we’re hopeful that in September it can resume and conclude in a timely fashion."

Take action

Two billion bucks in extra drug costs is not chump change. The drug patent demands of the European Union are unacceptable. They render any modest economic benefits almost meaningless to Canada. The new limits CETA would put on provincial and municipal public spending, on the creation new public services, on telecommunications policy, on financial services regulation — all of this already in Canada’s offers to the EU, which have leaked — are also already too much to pay for small potential market access gains in Europe for Canadian agricultural products.

Manley says quitting CETA is not an option. We think it’s the best one. Whichever you believe, we can’t let Corporate Canada’s rush for an EU deal get in the way of democracy and our right to have a say in the CETA negotiations before anything is signed. You can tell the PM and opposition parties how you feel by using our action alert, WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH EUROPE? As always, let us know what you hear back from the government and opposition parties.

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