New Generation Trade blog

A call for trade that protects the new generations coming to this beautiful planet.

The Price of Free Trade: NAFTA’s Acceleration of Climate Change

The NAFTA re-negotiations played like a bad movie this week. In President Trump’s bullying of Canada, and Mexico, you could see the hidden motives of power and control in trade revealed. North American trade houses implications for many, but climate change hasn’t even been broached by the negotiators. This is no surprise for a President who doesn’t acknowledge that climate change is happening. And what about the rest?

This summer has been hot – wildfires have consumed places in Greece, Sweden, California, British Columbia and elsewhere. Many suffer and are afraid as the world continues to produce its warmest average temperatures on record throughout the last four years. While the mainstream media is booming with doom stories depicting humanity as losers, people on the ground have been quietly making climactic shifts; an ethic of care born from awareness is rising. Fusing creativity and concern, there are tremendous citizens, entrepreneurs and city councils pushing back on the status quo. They rarely make the news. The town of Parkes, Australia, led by their Elvis-impersonator mayor, produces double the amount of energy they need each year through solar power; lucky because their extra energy is more than enough to fuel their sustainable Elvis festival. The municipal movement to carve a climate-safe path is starting to bud: the following cities have reduced their total carbon emissions by a quarter since 1990, and they are on track for 80% or more reductions by 2050: Copenhagen (42%), Stockholm (25%), Toronto (24%), Berlin (32%), Washington (24%), and San Francisco (28%). This ability for humans to collaborate is evolutionary and thus, unstoppable, but we don’t have tons of time. The challenge we face is a systems problem.

There was a historical period when it was right to celebrate the erasure of distance through world trade; the last four years, the hottest on record, is no longer that time. Global trade of the last three decades, stylized as free trade and archetyped under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), has surpassed its biological due date. For example, just because we can manufacture one product in multiple distant locations, doesn’t mean that we should obsessively do so. Or, just because corporations can use NAFTA courts to sue countries for their use of ecological and local-investment policy, doesn’t mean that they should. It’s important to become aware of all the cogs and wheels inherent in the present trading system and reflect on their costs for your well-being; there are enormous requirements of extraction, packaging and transport to produce exponential trade; this uses huge amounts of carbon. In this sense, every free trade agreement is the commitment of nations to fossil fuels.

Global trade can never be free – all extraction, production, packaging, and transport happens on the backs of forests, oceans, mountains, human and non-human communities. The sending of enormous amounts of goods around the planet will always be expensive for the atmosphere, the natural world and quite frankly us – people. This is even more true in developing countries where the waste required for this level of “sales” is dumped. That being said, trade fashioned in the style of NAFTA, is much more toxic than necessary. NAFTA has a legal mechanism to block environmental policy that slows profits called Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS); since its passing we have shaped the most ecologically dangerous society in history. According to the gifted thought-leader and communicator Naomi Klein, with the advent of NAFTA in the mid-nineties and all the mirror deals created after it, we have seen emissions steadily rise from 1% annually in the nineties to 3.4% in the 2000’s to more recently, a 5.9 % increase in global emissions in 2010 (Klein, 2014).

With over 3500 free trade treaties all focusing world governments to grow the Gross Domestic Product (the GDP, or sale of new goods), the physical boundaries of our earth’s systems are being compromised. NAFTA is nearing the end of its renegotiation but its impact on greenhouse gasses hasn’t even been mentioned. The correlation between free trade and climate change isn’t just the result of increased emissions from limitless transport of whole goods and their many parts. Free trade architecture shapes culture, practice and policy far beyond what appears possible because it is an all-encompassing body that touches increasingly every domain of life.  With texts upward of a thousand pages, free trade now covers world-wide rules for medicine and health care, local procurement, culture, agriculture and more. It shapes the way we live and behave in society though its ramifications on our well-being are ignored and have been totally absent in the creation of a new trade deal for North America. How could it be that the continental commitments that set the terrain for governance do not include explicit instructions and laws to safeguard our well-being and our home?

Essential spheres of public, private and biological life are encoded into trading rules every time a handful of free trade negotiators get together. Their influence on national and municipal law needs to be scrutinized with a gargantuan magnifying glass. Preferencing local goods is illegal in free-trade style treaties; National Treatment of foreign corporations is mandatory. Countries who sign trade agreements like NAFTA can be prosecuted in trade courts and come out paying hefty fines in the millions or billions. Canada is the most sued developed nation in the world as a result of NAFTA – largely attacked for environmental policy. Since 2010 there’s been an increase in transnational corporations suing countries to prevent policies from blocking profits. Specifically, cases against renewable energy programs are on the rise — such as the attack on India’s national solar mission project and the Ontario Green Energy Act (Klein, 2014).

NAFTA was the first multilateral agreement between developed nations to include the ISDS legal mechanism to raise profits for corporations over national policy decisions; in the past thirty years, ecological, health and social-based policies, have become less popular and less likely to be enacted by government because they are free-trade illegal. There are many pieces of trade law invented since NAFTA that deter countries from enacting the full potential of renewable energy plans. While choosing free trade commitments over the Paris Agreement for climate security makes no sense to us, it appears to make sense to governments that are trapped in an abstract global market competition where national success is measured, celebrated and reinforced by how much GDP a country can gain. Remember: GDP increases with the selling of new products – that means more use of carbon fuels.

I was horrified to learn that NAFTA has distinct rules that bind Canada to specific types of energy production and high levels of emissions; these trade rules are called the Energy Proportionality clause. In this section of NAFTA, Canada is required to give a proportion of all its domestic oil to the United States; Mexico blocked energy rules in the original NAFTA but it appears that they have accepted new rules for their energy contracts in negotiation with the Trump administration. According to an excellent and revealing report (Ackerman, Alvarez-Bejar, Laxer, and Beachy, 2018) about the connection between Canada’s energy projects and trade policy, Canada is required to give 74% of its oil (mainly from the Alberta oil sands) and 52% of its gas (mainly from Greenhouse intensive fracking) to the United States. It further states that “an exporter cannot disrupt the normal channels of supply.” According to Ackerman et al. (2018), the oil sands is 22 to 58% higher in Greenhouse Gas emissions, but because of a treaty signed in 1994 by a government that no longer exists, the oil sands are committed to production. The report beautifully names “NAFTA’s proportionality rule…a relic of the fossil fuel past.” The Trump, Trudeau and Pena Nieto governments are including rules to harmonize the three countries’ energy sectors; they are about to sign off on a fossil fuel future with their new NAFTA.

Donald Trump has also recommitted to the corrupt court system, ISDS, that defined NAFTA – Investor State Dispute Settlement according to the Council of Canadians, Canada’s long-standing network of trade justice educators. It is illegal and sue-able in NAFTA-style trade to slow profits of foreign investors for any reason including ethics or planetary emergencies like climate change. If Canada does not deliver oil to the US through pathways like the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, companies through NAFTA can sue Canada. Maude Barlow, the preeminent educator on the real impacts of free trade for the past three decades, shares that using NAFTA, Lone Pine, a Canadian corporation with an American office, is suing Canada for Quebec’s moratorium on fracking for 150 million dollars. Sadly, according to Ackerman et al. (2018), signed in its present state, NAFTA courts will continue to mandate the extraction of fracked gas and oils sands beyond the thresholds committed to the 2030 and 2050 global goals. Canada’s global goal for 2030 carbon emissions under the present rules of NAFTA will be five times more than what was committed to. Despite wanting to mount protective policies for US manufacturing, the Trump administration has held onto this trade pact for its bonuses to American power and political ideology like its energy rules. Climate change and earth expropriation is a free trade specialty. It’s no surprise the Trump administration wants in with trade courts and all. As Naomi Klein has said: “To allow arcane trade law, which has been negotiated with scant public scrutiny, to have this kind of power over an issue so critical to humanity’s future is a special kind of madness.” (Klein, 2014).

Free trade is unresponsive to ecological security issues because it’s aggressively focused on disembodied and immature measures for the twenty-first century reality like GDP growth. Before free trade began, however, in 1987 the world passed the Montreal Protocol, another atmospheric treaty to protect present and future generations. Scientists discovered a widening hole in the ozone layer which let in harmful UV rays that burn plants and animals including humans. Without free trade law that would have allowed corporations to sue governments who blocked their ozone-hole producing products, governments safely and collaboratively ushered in rules that see the hole still decreasing today and on track to recover by 2050. The difference between that treaty and the Paris treaty context is that back in the eighties there was not a fictitious international court system that pushed nearly every country to bully other countries into selling dangerous products and practices as a right of business. The system of free trade, which is not global trade but simply an interpretation of how we trade and govern, is non-responsive to our deeper needs. It’s a dinosaur in the twenty-first century. It does not have any learning capacity built into its design. Not only are deals like NAFTA, not responding to climate change, but fossil fuel extraction has become their law.

The evolutionary pulse to promote life is peeking through a rigid system that is intimidating nations to stick with the status quo, gut their environmental, social and health regulations for so-called cooperatory regulation. People in North America and all around the world are making changes despite a patriarchal, international trade system that’s risking our home. The Tiny House Warriors, people of the Secwepemc nation and settler allies, are building tiny houses along the route of the Kinder Morgan pipeline in BC to not only witness and resist the denial of their rights, but to eventually house people living below the poverty line in renewable energy homes; this determined group is creating integrated and creative solutions now. Ireland recently joined the flowering fossil fuel divestment movement and unanimously passed policy to phase out all funding for greenhouse gas-emitting projects in the next five years.  Canadian Environmental lawyer David R. Boyd (Boyd, 2015) reports that a handful of nations including Iceland, Albania, and Paraguay use renewables to fuel their energy grid, and a handful of other nations, like Costa Rica, have surpassed 90% production in energy other than gas, oil, and coal. With its national measure for success a well-being index, instead of GDP, Bhutan sequesters more carbon than it uses and has become a human-assisted carbon sink. International trade law slows countries from investing in local solutions to stabilize the atmosphere, but individuals, cities, and nations continue to push back. People want change and they are going to find it.

This international economic system is stuck in the dark ages – nineteenth century goals and beliefs are dictating policy that’s dangerously out of touch with earth reality. A free trade fixation with GDP that alights a worldwide competition for the biggest profits for transnational corporations has written rules incompatible with a stable climate. Because free trade lawsuits using ISDS and other rogue incarnations of law, have been launched against most nations (and their public interest policy) over the last three decades, the movement to secure our home is being blocked. Free trade is stalling our movement to secure the atmosphere.

When we negotiate trade deals, let’s ask timely questions; in the past we could marvel and even celebrate the technological and networking feat of global delivery. We can always cheer and promote increased access for developing nations. But this moment of four-hundred and fifty-plus parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere take us out of the celebration. It’s time to get sober. We must pause the hype on NAFTA re-negotiations and reflect on what such a harsh drive for material growth does to planetary security under all-encompassing treaties; we’re in need of social well-being, ecological security, and the rise of local autonomy to enter the greatest race of humankind: the defending of our beautiful home. Global climate change is a side effect of the way NAFTA and other trade treaties that followed it function.The one thing that Donald Trump has right is that we need to protect local emerging economies; but from a balanced and compassionate place, not from an energy of cut-throat competition. The rushed parametres of this negotiation are completely out of sync with our collective situation. They reflect Donald Trump and regulatory impoverished governments, not the vision that lives in the hearts of citizens.

We must loosen the hold trade agreements have over the design of our countries and cities and the ability of government to fund sustainable and local solutions. We need trade with a mixed design promoting local and global flows that penalizes projects that risk international security such as the Alberta Oil Sands. We can love Albertans and create a safe future if we dismiss the Kinder Morgan project and invest heavily in renewable projects and supports that are home-grown in Alberta; it doesn’t have to be either-or. This would be more possible if we do not accept the Energy Proportionality Clause or ISDS hiding in NAFTA. We must end this ethos hell-bent on competition and move into the era that is, despite what the media says, in the heart of the people: cooperation. What we focus on grows. Resources are not simply resources, they are the furniture and family in our 4.5 billion year heritage home; we need a biologically-responsive design for NAFTA – the world’s first and worst fossil fuel trade policy – that is aligned with the ecological reality we are actually living in; this is the twenty-first century with its infinite capacity to re-imagine and create, and its slew of complex ecological and security problems. Let’s ask big questions when creating continental policy, like how can we secure our stay here? People on the ground are aware and working towards solutions – NAFTA either needs to join us and get real about the physical planet we rely on, or get out of the way.


Dear Prime Minister No.3

Dear Prime Minister,

Your father was a brave man. Unrepentant in his drive for Canadian sovereignty. You are of bold and beautiful heritage. I want to acknowledge the courage it takes to hold public office, especially at this time – as the cage tightens on the heart of democracy from Greece to Spain to Canada. This world over, cold and steely, corporate rights drive out sovereign policy decisions. From IMF ransom loans to corporate lawsuits in free trade courts, your father never had to govern under such austere falsity. I feel compassion for your, and every elected official’s, great paradox. Now, in new talks for the North American Free Trade Agreement, please tell me how we can renegotiate NAFTA, Canada’s continental policy driver, without discussing the fact that we are its most sued nation.

Having suffered two thirds of NAFTA lawsuits initiated by corporations, we must not only protect assets from Donald Trump’s wild-eyed maneuverings but also from corporate lawsuits of Eli Lilly, Ethyl and Exxon-Mobil. These of the many corporations who under NAFTA took away agency – in the form of money and/or bylaws from Canadian citizens when they sued us in NAFTA’s trade court. I feel we are family in Canada, or more accurately, we can all try hard to manifest an ethos of family ~ for example, assuring everyone has access to necessary medicine. Under NAFTA our family’s health was directly threatened. It was shocking to me that in 2009, Eli Lily, American pharmaceutical company was allowed to sue us, using NAFTA, for $481 million dollars because they felt their profits were discriminated against when Canada did not grant them a patent monopoly for the sale of mental health drugs here. There was a time, not too long ago, when medicare assured access to medicine. A time we more fully enacted familial relations, and from that time, grew security. Social security serves everyone. It’s the kind of spiritual wellness that is unquantifiable in dollars, in gross domestic product.

When I hear the Foreign Affairs Minister, the Honourable Ms. Freeland, on behalf of the Canadian government, say that “Ottawa remains committed to investor-state dispute settlement”, despite her strategic brilliance, I know she is, on a practical level, wrong. It might be bearable for the short term, it’s certainly fashionable, but it’s a dangerous precedent to entrench these lawsuits further for future generations already dealing with an instability we could name in too many directions. Giving corporations more power of influence upon law does not build security, no matter how organized or financially strong they are; only democracy does that.

I’m happy to hear Ms. Freeland draw attention to labour, environment, gender and indigenous rights. With NAFTA’s history of violation on each of those levels, these themes should hold the core of discussion. But I’m unclear as to what is being proposed. As we know, no trade agreement in history has ever enforced any of those rights. Trade courts are not structured to hear these concerns. Since trade courts are unidirectional – private against public — the legal mechanism requires a corporation to initiate a trade complaint and bars a nation or a citizen from doing so. When the Canadian government speaks of expanding these rights, are you suggesting that we change the content of trade courts and allow the government or the public to sue corporations when they violate rights? Now that would be something to sit down at the table for!

As family, we Canadians wish to protect our mother — from the mighty Athabasca to the Great Lakes Watershed. There is a kind of duty now, at this precarious time, to recognize our role in the global family. What kind of brother, what kind of sister, is Canada being when we commit to deeper proliferation of NAFTA lawsuits?  This isn’t about making America great again as President Trump insists or making any one of our countries great for that matter. The highest heights free trade can reach is to leverage a country to out-earn another – but a trade surplus always comes at the expense of  another’s losses and always with further production of mother earth’s resources – sometimes engendering dangerous extraction practices. We are reaching in the wrong direction. What’s at stake with trade policy, the design for sale of public assets and goods across the globe, is the future. Far beyond Canada’s win, we have the choice to make central a more certain future. Unequivocally, we cannot provide a secure future for the kids of today, and the kids of tomorrow, if corporations are promoted to a stature above our mother.

It’s much harder to govern now in this time that Leonard Cohen called “the widowhood of every government” in his song, Anthem. What will Canada’s anthem be? What role could we play. By the power of her lungs, the Boreal Forest, the surge of the great rivers of Athabasca to St. Lawrence, and the beautiful faces of all the children we love, it’s worth the struggle to renegotiate with a commitment to our family and our mother. To not only say that human and earth rights matter, but to change trade law to make them real. Otherwise, what’s the point of being at the table. I wish you courage, and the constant remembering of this beautiful land, and tender family, when you and your colleagues renegotiate NAFTA.

Yours Truly,

Jennifer Chesnut

1 Comment

Dear Prime Minister 2.0

Feb. 22, 2017

Second Letter to the Prime Minister

When you speak, I hear care in your words. We crossed party lines to back the heart you expressed for this country and were moved by your promise to repair the damage of the former government. But care is not enough for any of us any more. If we are to be sustainable, we must act to protect what’s left in the shared economical and environmental networks of the future. We live a few degrees from ecological and political upheaval. What I want to know is: will you use your heart to legally protect what still lies in the public realm? are you brave enough to put your environmental love into policy? are you willing to be uncool to critique what’s popular because it’s immoral? There is a significant gap between the vision in the pages of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement and the local, green hope growing in European and Canadian communities. Please see past my direct tone to the care that drives these words. I write from grief and within the mix of 3.5 million Europeans and 40+ Canadian municipalities who’ve said no to the CETA. We have been speaking on behalf of children – those who will inherit a society restructured and restricted by the international powers of the CETA. We don’t care whether or not this is the popular viewpoint. We care about the stability of this beautiful green-blue planet.

Your values are different from those of the Harper government, but why is your economic blueprint the same? With the CETA, the former government reconfigured the role of governance chapter by chapter. They renegotiated the terms of management for the public service, municipalities, health care and education, crown corporations and more; these precious jewels of community were redirected to the flow of corporate management in perpetuity. The Harper comprehensive design was maintained but with one change – your government made the court for corporations public. Under your Investment Court System, real judges will now jury corporate complaints against our regulations, traditions and laws. I’m relieved that this role will be removed from the rotation of corporate lawyers who decide cases under NAFTA. But in effect, corporations will still sue us for our regulations but now we’ll now be able to watch. The Investment Court System sanctions, across the North American and European continents, a shocking interpretation of the judiciary. This is a legal manifestation of the same unchecked hunger that is putting the earth in peril and sets the wrong tone for the upper houses of the whole first world. The Investment Court System disarms national courts; this while the alarms sound through floods, drought, social unrest.

Because trade agreements are legally interpreted as more significant than national law, what you’ve okayed in its chapters, you’ll be putting into law. Should there not be more measure of prudence? Should there not be thorough reflection on the pros and the cons? Prime Minister, do you believe there are cons? I never hear you speak about them. Please look south to Brazil, east to India or to South Africa. All are refusing to mute public law for corporate request. None will allow a trade deal to pass their thresholds that gives power to the 1% to critique public regulations and get paid for it. If not Brazil, consider the critiques of the Wallonian government, before they too fell to the pressure of a consuming zeitgeist. What are the environmental risks of a sanctioned court for corporate complaints? Can they all be calculated and offset? Consider Bilcon corporation’s win under NAFTA to quarry through biodiverse marine habitat that’s the breeding ground for sensitive and endangered species in the Bay of Fundy. Our federal-provincial panel concluded after thorough investigation irreparable damage to the ecosystem and to the tourist-based economy of Nova Scotia. Having won the case in trade court, Bilcon now seeks 300 to 400 million dollars retribution for the challenging of their NAFTA rights. When corporations hold the power over water and seed, and the courts too agree, what kind of conflicts will emerge? I lie awake at night and worry. I wonder if you do.

When I see a trade deal like the CETA pass that guarantees permanent access of bitumen oil to the EU, and spreads a genetically modified food system into a continent where it had been barred, I put my head in my hands. You see a win of political faith, I see a windfall of environmental instability. You see a win for markets, I see stress for farmer markets. You see the ability to secure complicated negotiations, I see a government afraid to stand up to a dangerous aberration – the marriage of government and corporation through international law. I imagine it feels to you and your colleagues like there’s little choice to change this path. Corporations have been suing our country over our public regulations for 25 years under NAFTA and the use of ISDS has grown exponentially in the last five years. But from the long gaze, there are other ways of seeing. The urgency of these times changes everything. In upheaval, the measure of success is long. Success asks moral questions. It’s a quiet invitation to the common good, a chance to fall in love and protect the planet for future generations. It’s a call for political heroes. The rewards great.

Not one act for the public good is enforceable through CETA’s Investor Court System, only private profit. It’s inevitable that we’ll look back from the future and ask why didn’t we put an end to the violence of corporations suing against law. This is a time of action to securely course correct. There are things more valuable than trade surplus such as the freedom to regulate national and provincial stability. Donald Trump is wrong. We don’t need to build walls against foreign countries. We need to build protective legal structures in the upside down world of modern trade that destabilizes the law.

On behalf of the generations of children coming, I ask you to consider the gravity of a trade platform. What is is for? Please hear what your international colleagues say about the risks. Listen to what lies in the heart of citizen worry. Global trade consciousness is steadily rising. There’s not enough time left to risk an international direction driven by abstract calculations. The earth shows us her limits. We need a sovereign mind, a spirit of change, to enter international negotiations if we are to stay here and be well. We need a leader who will rise and say: regardless of what’s popular, I will not allow corporations to sue our nation or attack what’s left for the children coming.


Jennifer Chesnut




Dear Prime Minister

February 15, 2017

Dear Prime Minister,

Please tell me why you passed the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement without listening to the concerns of people in this country. With no public hearings, Canadians were not given the chance to give voice to the hardships from a treaty that supersedes national law. From increased costs of the most expensive medicines to loss of manufacturing and processing plants, every concern was diminished in the CETA story as a small price to pay.

Where is the tally record of what makes a good trade deal? Is it the numbers of export to import? Is it the statistics of Canadian companies with potential access to European Union (EU) markets? Even if Canada didn’t have a two-to-one trade deficit with the EU, even if we didn’t just lose our biggest trading partner, England, the free trade story isn’t numbers. It’s real lives. It’s the suffering from countless closures of Canadian factories to compete in cheaper markets. It’s diminishing public infrastructure to align with global trade trends. It’s the community instability that never gets discussed when new trade deals are decided.

If we are to be a nation of sustainable prosperity, the story we need to remember is that we are the most sued country in the first world under the popularizing of corporations-suing-countries with the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA. Please Prime Minister, with your care for this nation, and your long familial legacy, how can you forgo transparency on the risks from signing our most comprehensive international commitment.

Please share how it can be said that the CETA creates brotherhood among nations when corporations are granted power to sue nations in a special trade court if their profits are discriminated against. As a feminist, I can assure you there will never be a sisterhood here when the ethos of competition and secrecy permeates negotiations and the only legally penetrating structure of trade is corporations holding nations to account. From NAFTA, there’s Ethyl Corporation’s 13 million, SD Myers’ 5.6 million, Abitibi-Bowater’s 122 million, and many more brought to bear against Canada. Why is this vision good enough for Canadians? Why is trade being used as a platform for corporations to sue nations, and in a context when there’s no comparable mechanism to sue them for harm to local economies and ecosystems.

It has never been a problem that some people will benefit; I’m glad that some large Canadian businesses and farms will, and I wish more could. But why has the government not investigated those who will lose? The CETA mandate will last far longer than that of your elected tenure. In feminism, we call to the table those who are at the margins, those who are most vulnerable. It is their voices that have the most telling experience to share. No negotiator ever went on record to ask the perspective of those of the many who will be forced to pay out of pocket the billion-dollar annual increase in drug costs, the result of extended patent rights to pharmaceutical companies. No negotiator asked Canadian public workers how they might feel to be under contract by foreign private companies, no longer a part of the dignified municipal public service. No negotiator spoke of the movement of over forty city councils that requested formal exclusion from the CETA because they could see how their buy-local power would be restricted. These countless councilors, just like the 3.5 million signatory Europeans, refused to accept that foreign corporations suing for more profit is a good enough vision for the future. Why are trade deals treated as if they are something separate and irrelevant to citizens when they now contain content from every area of public life?

Who will the losers be? Will it be the municipalities who will be forced to open contracts to foreign owners? Will it be the public service workers who will answer to foreign private goals? Will it be the smaller farmers whose fields are abandoned because of too much foreign produce? Will it be indigenous people who’ve fought to protect their lands from more corporate rights, while shamefully, their true treaties are ignored?

The group who is never factored into the equation of trade balances, GDP measures and the competition of numbers that trade discussion has succumbed to, is children. It is the young people of this land, and the young people of Europe, who will inherit a reality where important decisions are no longer made by parliament elect. They will discover that decisions on health care, buy-local, food safety, education, environmental regulation and much more were decided decades earlier in 2017 by signatures of former leaders. We know that trade is no longer about goods, those have flown across the planet up and down, side to side, endlessly. Now trade is about services and how we spend public monies on everything. I want to know why this government thinks that a deal that can only be legally binding to corporate outcomes is good enough for citizens and more importantly, for the children that will inherit this already unstable world.

Forgive the forward voice of this letter. I am aware of the directness of tone. This is a result, not of a lack of understanding for the great responsibility of your role, but an intonation towards the weight upon the generations coming when the CETA, and other trade deals written in this comprehensive style, restrict the power they’ll have to make decisions to protect their lives. I can only imagine the kind of frustration they will face, when they find they cannot mobilize the full authority of their regulatory power, and further be forced to battle untold numbers in corporate lawsuits, because trade deals of this era were short-sited and biased towards the largest corporations in the world. This they will endure in a world of unknown environmental, social and political complexity. It’s for them I write. It’s for them I pray.


Jennifer Chesnut

The Comprehensive Economic Theft Agreement (CETA)

This is a story that cannot end well — Forget increasing food safety, support for local farms or enforcing protections from climate change. The new trade is not what they say it’s about. We already have the things we desire – less than 3% of tariffs remain on objects outside our borders. The new trade is something with much more weight: It’s about community power and who gets to make decisions. New trade, like the CETA, relinquishes power to the great trade lobbyists: transnational corporations.

Only corporations can enact the legal terms of trade; clearly the deals are for them.

I am all for trade — organic bananas and a good Chai tea. This is what our trade system should be: sharing the bounty of the earth in a way that sustains the generations. Despite the rhetoric, the new deals are not a nation to nation experience, but corporate compensation. We know this not only because the public is restricted from seeing their content during negotiation, but also: new style trade is a court system for corporations. In every case, public policy is on the defense from anticipated profits for the shareholders. Only corporations can enact the legal terms of trade; clearly the deals are for them!

This isn’t a complaint about business — Not all business benefits by trade. The small and medium size suffer from ever increasing mergers and acquisitions. Most of them cannot afford the price of enacting penalties upon countries. Just one arbitrator in one case can get paid one million dollars. It’s the richest businesses in the world that can claim legislation as discriminatory to their profit. Supra-corporations have found a lawyer, a jury and judge all in one and the treaties, which can be upwards of 1000 pages, support their profit rights regardless of social context. All cases won in private arbitration supersede decisions of national courts.There are sections in the new trade for higher aims like the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s labour chapter. However, not one of those chapters has ever been found to be legally-binding in trade court. When have you ever known a huge corporation to pay its workers in Vietnam a better wage just because? I am not saying it’s not possible but it has yet to happen, and this style of trade is not going to take us there.

The government is not engaging in a conversation about what the CETA and TPP could do: steal democratic process from future generations.

What about consent — When trade is discussed in Canadian media, the conversation is on GDP percents and export quotas rarely referencing the courts and their ramifications on the future. If they are mentioned, as dispute mechanism or national treatment, the meaning is hidden behind the jargon. Boring. There is no transparency about the risks because it’s not really a good conversation starter. How can a government portray a court system that promotes corporate profits over legislation tastefully? What really bores me is not the text, but the lack of courage to have a real conversation. Those who are in-the- know inside the government are one hundred percent responsible to name the risks because this is about political decision-making capacity. And people’s taxes pay for the lawsuits. Yet, our government is not engaging in a dialogue about what the CETA or TPP could do: steal democratic process from future generations, and deny the earth the ability to regulate herself in the constant growth domestic product machine! Not even first nations, with whom the government already has treaty obligations, has been invited to give their opinion. What about their consent.

Understanding one thing — The new generation deals started with the North American Free Trade Agreement. NAFTA popularized this style of Investor deal uncommon before the 90’s. NAFTA’s version is Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), but these agreements come with different names and variations — like the CETA’s Investor Court System. You can decipher what a trade treaty is about by understanding one thing: its enforcement mechanism. Can a country use the new trade rules to prevent potential carcinogens from entering its water system? No. Can an investor punish a community for protecting marine habitat when these measures cut into their expected profits? Yes, both true under NAFTA.  In trade disputes, no national or local complaint, even if about health, can even be juried. After Paris 2016, we may be making global gains for policy to slow climate change, but until our world policy surrenders its predatory behaviour in trade, we will never win a stable world. Follow the history of investor state. You will feel the catastrophe arising on the horizon like a bad movie. If you learn just one case of Canada’s history, it will change everything you’ve been told about trade. CETA will open up the world’s biggest markets; TPP will make us competitive on the world stage. Boring. And not the real story. I want a better ending.

I am not a fan of conspiracy theories — I don’t even like horror films, thrillers, or most popular drama series on Netflix. Cartoons, romantic comedies, documentaries about food I love and would prefer to be watching right now but am committed by conscience to share these facts: the new deals allow large companies to push back on our local economic policy. Because this is important: Every time another case goes to trade court, government sends the message to its lower levels that regional policy is not in alignment with international commitments. And I am not gonna stop: Some Canadian policy-makers have acknowledged they have seen the chill effect when government tries to pass new regulations for our well-being. Canada, as the most sued nation under NAFTA, has over 2 billion dollars in complaints against us yet to be settled. As the first world loser of trade disputes, you’d think our government would enact the precautionary principle. But what do I know? I am sure if someone of the establishment were listening to a public citizen’s opinion, I would be called anti-trade for naming the dangers, and possibly irrational for caring. As time passes, there will be more and more people saying what I am saying. We are not going to stop. We are only just beginning.

Gold standards or Fool’s Gold — The CETA was called a gold-plated trade deal by Canada’s trade minister, Chrystia Freeland. But who gets the gold? There will be some benefits for big business. Canadian agribusiness will reach more EU markets who were previously closed to Canada’s genetically modified farm products. Canadian energy companies will also benefit from the equal playing field that the CETA provides them in Europe. We have yet to hear from Minister Freeland or Parliamentary Secretary for Trade, David Lametti, how legislating power for foreign corporations to equally bid on city contracts is going to help us under CETA. Yes, us, the little people of the world who live and love in our cities. The people making babies and getting our government elected. The Trudeau team’s public dialogue on the TPP has been weak, but their embrace of Harper’s CETA leaves me speechless. Worried and grieving. Maybe I should stop reading trade history and watch more comedies. The CETA is laughable as a tool for expanding real economic growth in Canada. The Liberal trade platform held in context of our history as the number one sued nation in the developed world ignites skepticism about their message of transparency and hope. While many countries are now heatedly debating the legitimacy of a corporate courts of trade, our government is, by omission, denying that risk exists.

It’s like it never happened — What makes the CETA particularly dangerous to communities is its content is specifically local. For the first time, a first world trade deal has municipal procurement, or the Municipalities Academia Schools and Hospitals (MASH) sector, written into the core.  Using public money to purchase contracts locally will become trade-illegal and regulating community affairs very difficult. That is why over forty Canadian municipalities requested to be excluded from the CETA.  Have you heard members of parliament discuss their requests? It’s like it never happened. Shhhh, don’t tell and maybe it will go away.

The right to regulate and make decisions is being stolen from future generations.

Local Makes Sense — Even where local makes the most sense, such as choosing neighbouring farmers to provide food over ones far away, local is still prohibited and punishable by trade law. CETA’s municipal procurement threshold has been set at $340 000. That means that funding projects in the community over this amount requires city council to treat each investor equally regardless of their location, their business practice or the social implications. Equal treatment in trade means equal by measurement of the dollar.Society is rendered irrelevant. Toronto city council was one of the cities to request exemption from the CETA (and then be ignored). They are concerned about their ability to continue hiring local youth from at-risk neighbourhoods for construction contracts over the threshold, and are worried for their budding local city food contracts in hospitals, schools and more.

No local food here — Amy Wood, Canadian researcher published with the Centre for Policy Alternatives, shows how Toronto has reason for concern. She shares the example of Sunnyside home care facility in Waterloo whose local food contract costs one million dollars – far above the procurement threshold of $340 000. Under a ratified CETA, the local element could be deemed prohibitory by the food provider. With CETA being an Investor Court System (ICS) deal, what would stop a corporate claim of discrimination to profits for local preferencing?

We could continue to call this trade but it’s something else – the Comprehensive Economic Theft Agreement. The right to regulate and make decisions is being stolen from future generations. We must protect this power with every ounce of the passion we can muster. Consider your love of whole food or of natural habitat. Summon your dreams for your community — a clean, green, happy life. If not for ourselves, then we as citizens and government elect, must awaken the knowledge and with it, a new narrative for future generations. The first step begins with learning text that hides great power: like ISDS and ICS. The next is to check out Canada’s trade history under the first new deal of NAFTA. For upon our awareness, a healthy earth depends.

Protecting Climate Progress at COP21

climate is a common good

We can invest in planetary security by better balancing trade treaties.

Call for Renewable Energy – Across the spectrum, in business, science, non-profits, and in the grassroots, people are calling for renewable energy, not only the energy itself, but policy to protect green initiatives. The challenge is not technology; dedicated researchers continue to make excellent gains. We need targeted policy to prevent climate goals from being circumvented by our system of growth economics. The good news — this type of policy is being taken next week to the most important climate meeting yet,  Paris 2015, COP 21! The next couple paragraphs give the background.

Care for Our Common Home — Pope Francis released his famous Encyclical — On Care for our Common Home – in June 2015 as a warning to the economics of endless growth and a call to remember the finite nature of the earth. With urgency he speaks for policies that decrease greenhouse gas emissions and promote renewable sources in Article 26.  Shortly after the release of the Encyclical in 2015, new commitments from leaders of China and Germany raised the conversation; Chancellor Angela Merkel committed Germany to binding targets to be off non-renewables by 2050; China pledged to cap emissions by 2030. In August, the US shared standards to limit carbon pollution, and this week, Canada  committed for the first time to cap the tar sands emissions while the rest of the world sighed in relief. Actionable, enforced targets are what matters. It seems there are growing steps in that direction. Though the challenge to climate transition is great, the urgency and generational reward is much greater. But what we need now, is a leap!

Barriers to Climate Progress – Many researchers, leaders, and advocates are building a new consensus on what to do about climate change. Naomi Klein’s work has helped greatly to popularize this understanding. Climate emissions can only be significantly diminished by addressing problems of structure in the global economy. According to Maude Barlow, trade, water and social justice expert, there are 3200 ISDS trade treaties across the globe. These treaties no longer focus on goods but instead: regulatory capacity of governments. They supersede the decisions of national courts and allow corporations to pollute by using ISDS to frame governmental regulation, of any type, as discriminatory if they decrease profit. Seventy percent of ISDS cases launched in the past have been against a nation’s environmental policies. Of course, this is wrong.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Creating space in our economic system for new trade solutions that impact climate is fundamental to our survival.


How Trade Deals Have Blocked Clean Energy Initiatives – From the Ontario Green Energy Initiative (WTO vs. Canada) to a fracking moratorium (Lone Pine vs. Canada)  to nuclear power (Vattenfal vs Germany), many ISDS cases have involved energy rules. Some trade suits won by corporations have prevented changes to renewable energy, but cases do not have to be won to cause this effect. Vattenfall, a Swedish energy company, launched a 1.9 billion ISDS case against Germany for imposing stricter standards on coal. Germany removed additional environmental requirements and decided to pay settlement fees to the company to avoid the high expenses of ISDS arbitration. Coal production resumed as it was. Corporations are able to charge nations for unpredictable amounts. Russia was ordered to pay 50 billion dollars for the most expensive ISDS case ruling recorded. Gus Van Harten, international trade policy expert of Osgoode Hall law school says that the threat of unknown financial liability with ISDS is enough to prevent nations to take climate change action. ISDS allows any multinational corporation or foreign national to push back on new carbon agreements. Hmmm…

Protecting the Climate at COP 21 – Now here comes the good news: Gus Van Harten has created a carve-out for past and future ISDS trade deals that can be applied through a Paris multilateral agreement on climate change, AND the European parliament has adopted it. This trade carve-out will create a legal safeguard for countries to enact climate progress targets free of ISDS threat. According to Van Harten, if embraced, the legal text would create a “greater certainty, no investor state dispute settlement tribunal, arbitrator, body, or process has jurisdiction over any dispute related to the scope or application” of a climate treaty. Makes a lot of practical sense.

Hope for Change – This kind of economic restructuring gives me great hope! Global economic policy is where climate norms are created and enforced. Creating space in our economic system for new trade solutions that impact climate is fundamental to our survival. As the Pope said in June, Article 187,  “profit cannot be the sole criterion being taken into account, and that, when significant new information comes to light, a reassessment should be made, with the involvement of all interested parties.” The EU parliament adopting this carve-out for climate change means the conversation is deepening. If this frame is put into action at COP 21, there will be reason to take heart. It will mark the beginning of working on the foundational problem. We should move swiftly towards resolution and greater balance in trade policy for all the children now and the wee ones coming. Sending good trade wishes to COP 21.


Corporate Rights Confederacy: TPP, TISA, TTIP-CETA

dangerous and stupid

Easing the Burden of Law for Corporations — The goal of the TPP, TISA, and TTIP-CETA is to create the same regulations for the majority of the globe. The driver is not equality or the environment, but streamlining regulations in countries to make it easier for investors. The deals are negotiated without public input; even parliamentarians are denied access to the text. Maude Barlow, fair trade expert, warns of a diminishing authority of government to regulate for the public good through “a process of harmonizing standards and regulations among all the jurisdictions on goods as diverse as pipelines, chemicals and food Convergence Standards.”  It’s as if the law has become a burden for corporations.

Only Business Enforces the Rules — The only group who can initiate the enforcement of the TPP, TISA or TTIP-CETA is big investors. ISDS, the dispute framework for the new trade, is designed to jury their complaints.  No other part of the text, not labour, the environment, or health & safety, are enforceable. Even though these deals change the rules for our municipal councils, there is no protection mechanism for sub-national government. There is no process in the TPP, TISA or TTIP-CETA for government or people to make a complaint. Barlow’s recent assessment of ISDS trade, “Fighting TTIP, CETA and ISDS: Lessons from Canada” shares the views of UN rapporteurs on ISDS trade. In their June report, they conclude that these deals protect corporations and not populations. The UN warns that the right to regulate is at risk for government under these regimes.


With the environmental and social challenges we face, giving transnational corporations a formal legal system to wield for their profits is conscientious stupidity.


Europe Tries To Rebrand ISDS – It is no surprise that every day people do not want ISDS. When surveyed, 97 percent of Europeans said no. In response, the EU trade commission has begun to make some changes. They want actual judges, not private arbitrators, to preside over the claims in a public court they are calling the Investment Court System (ICS). While making trade more transparent is essential, this court system would still only enforce corporate complaints. This modified ISDS means that members of the public could watch corporations sue us as opposed to it being done in secret as it is now. This is not a fundamental shift. The corporate rights confederacy is still in place.

An Act of Violence on the People — John Hilary, director of the UK’s War on Want, calls the shift from ISDS to ICS “an act of violence against the (European) people” (Video 54:40)  The new Investment Court System plan for TTIP, and possibly CETA, will legitimize corporate lawsuits against the state. Corporate control is okay for selling sneakers and soda crackers, but when it holds the authority over biological fundamentals like seeds, medicine, water, it’s anti-democratic. Legitimizing a law system for corporations puts us at a dangerous crossroads. With the environmental and social challenges we face, giving transnational corporations a formal legal system to wield for their profits is conscientious stupidity. A court system biased to big profit is an assault on future generations.