Published in the Huffington Post Wednesday September 14, 2016
The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, if ratified, would have a massive impact on many parts of Canadian society, from auto manufacturing, to farming, to the price of medications, to our digital rights, and many other areas.
That’s why, ever since the deal was dumped on Canadians almost a year ago by the Harper government in the dying days of its mandate, Unifor and other unions and progressive groups have been demanding a full and independent review of the deal and its impact on Canadians.
A full review would enable Canadians to weigh the merits and risks of the TPP, adding critical analysis to cross-country consultations. From there, elected representatives could make an informed decision on whether to ratify the TPP. Shortly after being elected, the Trudeau government promised such a review.
Instead, what has transpired so far falls short. Released last Friday by the Office of the Chief Economist, the report is too short and too shallow to be of any real use. To take such a massive and comprehensive trade deal, such as the TPP, and reduce it to a few pages on a website serves little purpose.
With the expected huge impact the TPP will have on the future of the auto sector– currently the focus of Unifor’s contract talks with the Detroit Three – as well as on Canada’s health, environmental, social and industry policy the release of a report with so little information is particularly disheartening.
Too much is left out. There is no look at intellectual property rights and what the deal means for drug prices or the potential for setting up a much-needed Pharmacare program in this country. The impact on supply management, and what that means for dairy farmers, processors and the milk we drink is also only partially addressed.
There is no look at the high-tech sector, often touted as the future for our economy, or the impact of patent laws on that industry.
Most worrisome, the review doesn’t look at the TPP’s onerous Investor State Dispute Settlement system, which would allow corporations to sue government if its policies affect profits. That raises frightening questions about the implications for environmental, safety and health laws (to mention a few) that future governments might want to implement.
Where the study does look, there is little to like about the TPP.
Friday’s report predicts anemic GDP growth of 0.127 per cent by the year 2040 due to the TPP. As small as that is, it’s more than others have predicted. The pro free trade C.D. Howe Institute, for instance, predicted 0.02 per cent by 2018, while the World Bank predicted 0.08 per cent by 2035.
On auto, the review says there will be some drop in both production and investment dollars, but tries to minimize the impact by saying any increase in imports from Japan would be largely offset by a decline in imports from NAFTA countries as NAFTA preferences decline.
This is hardly a win for Canada. And it seems overly optimistic and not at all consistent with the analysis of others.
A study by John Holmes and Jeffrey Carey of Queen’s University in July, for example, found that the TPP would put the Canadian automotive industry at risk, undermining the competitiveness of assembly and small and medium-sized auto parts plants.
For good reason, the auto parts manufacturers in this country worry that the TPP will hit their industry hard, thanks to lax rules of origin regulations and rapidly disappearing tariffs with Japan (much faster than for the U.S.).
Perhaps most concerning is that the study fails to address the question of how the TPP will affect Canadian jobs. That’s because the study uses an economic modeling approach that has come under severe criticism for its unrealistic underlying assumptions – which tend to boost the perceived GDP gains of any trade deal.
How unrealistic is the model? It assumes job losses, exchange rate fluctuations and technological advancements won’t happen. In other words, the study doesn’t seek to determine how TPP will affect jobs in Canada, because it assumes no one can be laid off.
It is unsettling that any proper analysis of the TPP would choose to ignore the fundamental question of jobs.
The risks from the TPP are simply too high to justify the paltry gains that even an overly optimistic review can offer. This review should be treated as just one contribution to Ottawa’s TPP consultations, continuing to the end of October.
It is one among tens of thousands of other informed opinions on this deal. Our elected representatives need to give each of them careful consideration. The stakes are too high to do otherwise.