The TPP the latest of a bad generation of trade deals

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President's Message with Jerry Dias' picture

This was published on May 5, 2016 in the Huffington Post

The ideal of a democracy such as ours is that we elect governments to enact laws in the general public interest. We may not each like every single law that is passed, but overall the laws passed should be in our general good interest.

There may even be laws that cause us inconvenience from time to time, but we accept them for the greater good. Take the laws that allow us to be pulled over, with no evidence to suggest we are guilty of anything, to see if we have been drinking while driving. Ride Checks are a minor inconvenience we all accept to help keep our roads safe.

As citizens, we accept that some laws might cost us something or inconvenience us in some way, but we agree to them because that’s the price of living in a civilized society.

This is why I have a real problem with people or corporations who think there should be no laws passed that impinge on them and their selfish needs – but that’s exactly what the corporate world is trying to push onto the rest of us with the latest generation of so-called free trade deals, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Where once trade deals dealt with bringing down tariffs to allow for the freer flow of goods between countries, today’s trade deals put much more emphasis on “non-tariff barriers” such as laws and regulations within the countries involved in a trade deal – and grant extraordinary powers to corporations to sue governments that pass laws that hurt their profits.

The idea is to ensure consistent regulations among countries in a trade deal so that one country can’t use its laws and regulations to restrict trade. The reality is that corporations use the trade deals to restrict duly elected governments from passing laws that are in the interest of their own citizens.

The TPP – a proposed new deal between Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States of America and Vietnam – is the latest in this new generation of trade deals.

Its Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system would give corporations the right to sue governments if they pass laws that restrict their ability to generate a profit, even if those laws are in the public interest. There are no reciprocal rights in the deal, however, that would allow for corporations to be sued under the TPP’s toothless labour rights chapter.

In certain cases, the deal would prevent governments from enacting new regulations on an industry, once regulations have been relaxed. This ratcheting effect means our laws can only move in one direction toward greater deregulation, without regard to any future societal needs or demands.

Canada is already the most sued nation under this system of extra-judicial tribunals. So why would we want to sign a new deal that could see us sued even more, just for passing laws that our citizens want? It makes no sense.

Governments are elected to pass laws that are in the public interest, on issues such as labour rights, protecting the environment, establishing minimum health and safety standards, to safeguard our cultural industries, and more. No trade deal should ever be ratified that limits this very basic responsibility of government. And yet that’s what the TPP and other recent trade deals with an ISDS system would do.

As if that weren’t enough, the TPP would hurt many of our key industries, from dairy to auto, raise drug prices due to its patent law requirements, provide multinational firms an unlimited flow of temporary workers into Canada through inter-corporate arrangements, and more.

All this despite recent studies that predict the TPP will have a negative effect on Canada’s economy – or, at best, have little to no impact at all.

No wonder Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz called the Trans-Pacific Partnership "the worst trade deal ever." And, no wonder the deal was negotiated in secret by the Harper government.

Unifor is urging Members of Parliament to not ratify the TPP in its current form. Canada’s approach to global trade and investment must serve to enhance our collective economic and social development, and must be guided by progressive, fair trade principles.