ISDS a potential ICBM on sovereignty

International trade deals could turn nations into branch offices


 isds  isds

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RED DEER, Alta. Jan. 24, 2016/ Troy Media/ – In today’s global economy, you no longer need nuclear weapons to destroy or take over another country – you can just sue them to death under free-trade agreements.

In my youth, we feared intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) tipped with nuclear warheads that could destroy us all in a matter of minutes. Today, we shudder at the thought that some refugees might want to bomb or shoot up a Canadian mall or movie house.

But the real threat to our sovereignty and control over our lives is planeloads of lawyers representing transnational corporations seeking to tear down our environmental, food safety and labour laws – or any laws that might reduce their profits.

Their tool is ISDS: Investor-to-State Dispute Settlement rules buried within our free-trade agreements.

Canada recently completed negotiations on two huge international trade deals. But it’s entirely possible neither the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Europe nor the Trans-Pacific Partnership will be ratified – at least not in their present forms.

Canada has signed on in principle to both, of course. And officially no country can re-open negotiations. Either we ratify the deals or we don’t.

But reports from Davos, Switzerland, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet are working hard to sell our diversity and resourcefulness, suggest diplomats are trying to rework the wording on CETA in order to save it.

CETA is not a done deal and may never get done because hundreds of thousands of Europeans don’t want their parliaments to cede sovereignty over their air, water, labour laws, food safety, health care and natural resources to foreign corporate interests.

Huffington Post reported last year that Canada is the most-sued nation in the developed world. Under Chapter 11 of the North America Free Trade Agreement, American companies have launched no less than 35 claims against us, seeking something in the order of $6 billion in damages.

Why? For banning fracking of gas wells in Quebec, when people got nervous about its effects on water. Or for a national ban on neurotoxin MMT (a gasoline additive). Or for insisting that PCB wastes be disposed of in proper facilities as prescribed by another international treaty. Or that Newfoundland and Labrador took back some water and hydro rights on land after a pulp and paper company closed its last mill in the area. Or when Ontario refused a permit for a company to develop a quarry, over concerns regarding groundwater contamination.

The U.S. has a 100 per cent success rate in defending Canadian investor claims against the U.S. It has cost Canadians about $65 million to fight these lawsuits. And we’ve had to change laws and/or pay penalties of about $170 million. More suits are pending.

Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians says that under NAFTA, CETA or TPP companies could forbid Canadian provinces or dozens of other nations from raising their minimum wages, for instance. Or they could insist that Canada allow the sale of milk products containing bovine growth hormone, which is illegal in Canada.

A national Buy Canadian policy? Couldn’t happen.

Barlow was in Davos warning European interest groups of the dangers of signing away their sovereignty so that powerful corporations can guarantee higher profits.

Reports now suggest the message is being heard – and the European agreement is in danger. American lawmakers are angry that corporate lobbyists saw the text of TPP long before the deal was done and are raising a stink about loss of U.S. sovereignty. If the U.S. doesn’t ratify, TPP is dead.

CETA needs to be ratified by all the countries concerned to go into effect. That means it must be translated into 23 languages and all the versions must agree on what the deal means.

That’s the window through which European diplomats are talking to Canadian diplomats now. The ISDS portion of CETA needs to be watered down so nations can remain in control of their laws, social policies and environments.

In other words, still call themselves nations and not branch offices.

The global economy has changed how we all live. You can’t can’t build a blue jean factory in Canada without competing against child labour costs in Asia.

We’ve given up ownership of oil and gas resources, but we don’t need to give up the right to develop green technologies within our borders as a result.

In the alphabet soup of international deals, ISDS could be the ICBM that either nukes our notions of nationhood or the deals themselves.

Greg Neiman is a freelance editor, columnist and blogger living in Red Deer, Alta. Greg is also included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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One Response to "ISDS a potential ICBM on sovereignty"

  1. Avatar
    Gus Van Harten - Associate Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School   January 24, 2016 at 10:35 am

    Great article. Really nice job in capturing the essence of the problems with ISDS for a general audience.

    Note from the Editor:
    Gus is also a Troy Media contributor.

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