New Generation Trade blog

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


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 Good News on the TPP

1b_Knowledge is Power_ImageNASA JPL Photo credit

The text of the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) was finalized behind closed doors in Atlanta last week, and millions grieved. The CETA half of the TTIP was completed in September 2014 to upset thousands upon thousands. Neither have been ratified, and the number of people knowing about the new trade, that isn’t actually trade, is growing on the daily. By cutting off pharmaceuticals for cancer patients, multi-lateral corporate trade pacts have acquired a new following. By threatening freedom of online speech, internet users are uniting to speak out against the TPP. By restricting sovereign agriculture, like Japan’s rice farmers, and proud manufacturers, like Canadian autoworkers, regular people are not buying so-called trade. Farmers on their tractors took to Canada’s capital in September 2015, and thousands of Japanese citizens, for whom protest has little precedence, have flowed through Tokyo’s streets. Yesterday, over 250 000 people chose raising their voices in Berlin over all other options. These diverse groups appearing on the world stage are an expression of knowledge and their act is one of determination. So the good news is that many people are talking now, and when the numbers rise reach critical mass, there is power. As in all civil rights movements, knowledge takes time to spread; the difference now is that we have the internet. Take heart in every connection. And know this TPP, or TTIP, or CETA, or any other multi letter delusion of law and politic: our response is to speak with more passion, to drive our lives with more inter-being, greater depth of purpose, and make all forms of ISDS our business to tell. Don’t take it personally, it’s not about you. It’s about caring for the security of new generations coming to this beautiful planet. And it is only a matter of time until the shift. What is unknown is how much time you will take. In these years of global redirect for fair economy, full democracy, stable climate, how much energy will you require? Our resistance is expanding. Our power is in knowing. Once people know, they do not like the new trade. Word by word, we are taking our power back.

The Great Turning – Negotiations for Public Power

#changetheCETA-TTIP #reclaimHydroOne #bringbacktheFQD

Who will control our power in this crucial decade? With the race for climate security on, energy is risky (and expensive) business to be run by corporations. We know there has been irreversible damage to the atmosphere, land and waters. We feel shame and we want change. More serious than the carbon impact of one company, the risks of regional management by a fossil fuel cartel are many. A sustainable energy future requires public control. What will it take for the government of Canada to follow the people’s will?

#PremierWynne #p3ingofpublicpower #theclimateforchangeisgrowing

The Great Turning We live in a time of contrast that raises hope and fear. We put our heads in the sand or open our minds to the question – how can I serve? For me the pressure brings both responses: hope inspired by creative localization, and fear and grief from the dismantling of the commons by private interests. David Korten, and other progressives, call this time of tumultuous change: the Great Turning. Trade and investment pacts are mechanisms of the power crisis because they are the long-term platform for the extraction-privatization of nations. With the new deals, city assets and municipal energy bodies are being traded on the free market. In Ontario where I live provincial and municipal energy service is in the process of being privatized. Selling this people’s asset without permission, and hiring private corporations to run it into perpetuity, is a deal breaker for me. In these energy shaky times, I want the next generation to inherit a public system. This knowing is resultant from more than my Tar Sands shame. Privatizing the energy of Canada’s most populous province risks essential stuff, like affordable rates and service quality. In this blog I explore why energy sectors should not privatize, and if they do, never through trade. I also ask questions about the plans to deregulate Ontario energy.

#notonmywatch #nopublicmandate #keephydropublic

Extreme Risks  What does it mean to have corporations be in charge of energy? Very few of us can survive off the grid – the majority rely on public energy. All day long we employ energy sources in service of our eating, bathing, working, learning. Nearly all our activities are beholden to shared power. Just like water, energy is essential and the quality of our lives depends on its availability. Many problems can arise when energy becomes managed by for-profit interests. With privatization (or p3ing) we frequently see: decreased access, service limitations, job cuts, rate increases, and environmental risks. California saw rolling blackouts when they privatized. Ontario has its own privatization stories that have increased stress and expense like the 407 highway and Hamilton city water. Because of repeated problems, many municipalities are bringing energy (and other life-dependent sectors) back to public hands. Hamburg Germany residents won an energy referendum in 2013 and are in the process of bringing their energy service fully public again. The purpose behind the “Our Hamburg, Our Grid” campaign is to reclaim public authority in order to create a system based in renewables. Under a North American style trade treaty, like CETA-TTIP, this change could be difficult.

Ontario announces privatization Ontario’s premier, Kathleen Wynne, recently announced her intention to sell 60% of the public’s energy shares. Last week, at the London town hall for a public Hydro One, Andrea Horwath, MPP for Hamilton and head of the Ontario NDP party, announced that this number could reach 90% or higher. The transfer of power remains regardless of the percentage, however, Horwath shared this — if Ontario ownership reaches below 10%, the legislation implies that the public will be barred from bringing it back to public control. Why privatize a successful crown corporation that has been generating funds and providing stability since 1906? The government says they will privatize Hydro One to build other public infrastructure – transit lines, roads and bridges with an anticipated 4 billion of the sales, and to pay off debt with the other anticipated 5 billion. This asset makes 300 million a year in dividend income for Ontario people. Why sell it off for small short-term gain when the return is long-term losses forever? The danger for our future is not only the loss of reliable consistent funding but also the ability to shape our energy program and monitor its integrity. The auditor general and provincial ombudsperson have warned that they will no longer be able to monitor a private Hydro One.

Plausible Future Outcomes Big business investors cannot focus on equitable rates and environmental impacts at the expense of their bottom-line. Company survival depends on increasing profit. This does not an-evil-corporation-make, but a dangerous mismatch of public need with private goals. How do energy corporations manage their quarterly profit targets? Increases in rates, decreases in service, or cutting of jobs is likely. What else can do they do to make more money in a context that requires profit growth? In a future Hydro One, we would have no shareholder voice to create renewable infrastructure. The premier knows that we must take care of the climate. She announced a commitment to dealing with climate change this spring. However, encouraging corporations to run Ontario’s energy is fundamentally incongruent with sustainability. Ontario public energy was previously funding renewables until local procurement provisions were banned by the World Trade Organization. Trade law gets in the way of environmental change. More of the story can be found here:

Ontario Energy & Trade Pacts The government should not make key policy and structural changes without a public mandate. Doing this behind closed doors and legislating far into the future through trade treaties, like the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), encourages skepticism. For the first time Canadian energy entities of provincial jurisdiction, like Hydro One, and municipal jurisdiction, like Toronto Hydro, will be ruled through international treaty law. According to the CETA text, Ontario’s energy, including Hydro One, the Ontario Energy Board, and major municipal entities are not protected by Annex reservations. On the European side of CETA-TTIP, sustainable energy choices are also not protected. Europeans will lose their ability to favour cleaner energy sources or suffer the threats of ISDS lawsuits.

Taking Back Power from the CETA-TTIP There are many things that work in a profit model, and many that don’t! Corporate energy systems, that put us at risk of going even higher in parts per million, is not on my list of what the generation after us should inherit. What I love about this time is the sweet significance it holds. The Great Turning is abundant with ways to make purpose of our quiet lives. It’s a time of opportunity to think about what we stand for and what we can do to make things better for those coming next. How we power this planet should not be decided by a management team of large corporations nor secretly designed in a trade deal. What you will you do with your power in the Great Turning? What part of story do you feel compelled to voice? Canadian economist Marjorie Griffin Cohen, back in the early days of new trade, in a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives study, says this of energy: “It is an industry that provides for human survival in a densely populated and complex world. Electricity is the basic infrastructure for every industry. The significance of who controls its generation and supply cannot be overstated.” After all, energy is an expression of our collective power as a civilization. Right now that power is being taken away. There are so many other possibilities. Let’s shine a light on them.

#findyourpower #whatsyourlegacy

Justice and Discrimination Appropriated by ISDS

The concepts of justice and discrimination are being turned upside down to favour transnational corporations. Martin Luther King Jr. would be rolling in his grave at the number of ISDS cases piling up across the globe for a corporation’s right to “justice” and “freedom from discrimination”.

Another resource company wins profit rights under NAFTA – The Canadian Press reported last week that Canada has lost another case in the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system to a US aggregate rock company, Bilcon, for its right to expand a quarry under NAFTA. The private tribunal sided against a Canadian governmental review’s decision not to enlarge an existing quarry in the southwest part of Nova Scotia. The trade court representatives stated that it was unfair for officials to encourage the quarry’s development and then decide not to go ahead.  The company would be shipping 2 million tons of basalt a year to the US from Nova Scotia for the next 50 years. Bilcon is asking for $300 million in damages for loss of profits. This ruling follows a decision earlier this month when Canadians were ordered to pay $17 million to ExxonMobil and Murphy Oil for their profit rights uninterrupted by regional economic development policy in Newfoundland and Labrador. If a nation restricts profit to a foreign corporation for various reasons: the promotion of local economic development (the ExxonMobil and Murphy Oil case) or because a government review panel believes it’s environmentally risky (the Bilcon case), corporations have a legal system to overturn these decisions.

Reversing the meaning of justice and discrimination – Discrimination and justice have been key teachings in raising global consciousness in the struggle for human rights. These concepts were not intended for making profits, nor to be used against citizens’ own public protection policies. The absurdity of appropriating them to protect a corporation’s profits at the expense of a community’s security leaves one speechless. Well, for a moment. Enter “expropriation”. Expropriation is a common trade rule invoked in ISDS cases. Expropriation can make it illegal for a country to diminish anticipated corporate profits if their sector was opened for access in a free trade agreement. Initially, expropriation was intended to protect the physical assets of a company from things like factory seizure. This concept used in ISDS courts is chipping away at the foundation of human rights standards. If a corporation feels they have been treated unfairly by a host country, they may call this “discrimination” and be entitled to a hearing. Through NAFTA’s resource sector openings, both ExxonMobil/Murphy Oil and Bilcon won rights beyond national or provincial decisions. There are over seventy-five known private tribunal NAFTA cases, and they are fast on the rise.

Not just a Canadian problem – ISDS is not just a problem in Canada. Many nations, more vulnerable than Canada, have lost ISDS cases over their local and national policies. Some, particularly in Latin America, have lost against Canadian resource companies especially in mining. ISDS is said to be the framework for many upcoming and far-reaching agreements involving Europe, the US, Canada, and Pacific Rim nations from the TTIP to the CETA to the TPP. It’s essential to remember that the only complaint that can be prosecuted in a ISDS tribunal is the economic rights of a corporation — there is no legal mechanism to prosecute on human rights, ecological safety, or any other grounds. An exploration of NAFTA’s cases unearths future potential ISDS risks. Let’s honour the true vocabulary of justice, developed through decades of civil rights struggle, and have an adult conversation about what this version of trade could mean for the coming generations.

“Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose, they become dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social justice.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Deadly Tango of Trade and Climate Change

ISDS suppresses buy-local and supports climate change.

Sending more stuff around the globe! The aim of global free trade is to send evermore objects and services around the globe. Free trade suppresses local exchange by its philosophy and now, with the rise of investor state dispute settlement (ISDS), also by its law. Can we afford such unbalanced economics in a world beginning to witness the horrors of climate change?

Trade-ables are community assets! New generation trade deals are far more radical than most realize because of their content and how they are enforced. The majority of tariffs for goods were dropped by the nineties, and so trade industry specialists sought new markets. Trade-ables now are public assets like energy and water. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a first in this new trade frame, is one part energy treaty. For example, NAFTA article 605 requires Canada to export energy to the US.

Transnational Corporations hold serious power in trade! NAFTA popularized a way to hold nations to account for a corporation’s profits — Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). ISDS gives trade legal options for corporations to sue countries or communities to make more money in their sector, even from practices that may contribute to climate change, while sometimes making grassroots incentives illegal. ISDS has no capacity to reprimand corporate practices because it does not jury a nation’s complaints, only a business’!

Cases of Energy Corporations Suing Countries! The first NAFTA-case was won in 1997 by a company in the gasoline industry. Ethyl Corporation won the right to continue using gasoline that contained additives that Canada banned because studies showed them as potential carcinogens. Using the National Treatment clause in ISDS, Ethyl won 13 million from Canadians for their right to be treated like any other national interest. The fancy trade law term in ISDS is National Treatment. Canada was stuck with the additives.

What are NAFTA’s risks now as we move into the potential CETA– TTIP era? The world has moved on from NAFTA to CETA–TTIP, TTP! Does NAFTA still have impacts twenty-plus years after implementation? You bet your bottom dollar, and your communities. Quebec presently has a moratorium on fracking in the St. Lawrence region to study potential risks to water supply. Lone Pine Corporation launched a complaint against Canada under NAFTA. Lone Pine’s complaint is being heard in private trade courts, and whatever is decided there, like all ISDS cases, will supersede national and regional law. NAFTA’s foundation will shape the relationship and rules of the new CETA — TTIP with the EU. Trade rules, legally-binding, build on one another!

Dropping rules in Newfoundland, Labrador and beyond to help out corporations! On Friday March 6th, it was reported in the Globe and Mail that Canada was ordered to pay ExxonMobil and Murphy Oil 17.3 million because of policy for regional economic development in struggling East coast communities. Newfoundland and Labrador, still struggling from unrecovered cod fisheries, told the companies to pay into local Research and Development (R&D) in exchange for use of oil. The companies sued and Canada lost in the trade courts.

What does our future under the NAFTA–CETA–TTIP–TPP trade chain look like? Our future relies on humanity creating a much better balance of the environment and business in global economic policy. It’s time to try some new moves. Bring the public back to the dance of country-to-country economic affairs. Free trade treaties set the quality of life for all generations into the future, and will shape the outcome of climate security. I know, innocuous sounding policy. Who knew? A future case, reported in May 2014 in The Globe and Mail, could be launched under NAFTA for the Keystone Pipeline. TransCanada Corporation could ISDS-sue the US for its resistance to Alberta bitumen oil.

Do North Americans, known for contributing a hefty share of CO2, not have a responsibility to secure trade that puts the concerns of communities first? Or shall we continue to spend taxpayers’ money on legal fees and fines from corporate trade-suits against our laws.


How Could You? An Investor’s State of Canada and the European Union

What do you predict the great-grandchildren of this planet will say after a few decades of ISDS as the global norm?

Nuclear energy, financial crisis debt, carcinogenic substances, research and development funds, drug prices, toxic substance transport. Transnational corporations have been given special legal authority on these and other issues in Canada and the European Union through trade pacts. Meanwhile, countries have lost millions in trade tribunals defending protective laws, paying legal fees and lawsuit fines to corporations.

Years from now, there is no doubt that the great (and ever greater) grandchildren of this planet will ask why we allowed transnationals to overturn our highest courts. If you imagine the possibilities even a little you can almost hear their astonishment: You seriously allowed corporations to cancel laws that interrupted their profits? Did you not see how a special legal power for corporations inside a government framework would impact this generation’s ability to have any hope of electing responsible representation?

Many bilateral investment treaties have included ISDS since the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA. It is a legacy of which many in-the-know North Americans feel ashamed. However, an opportunity for other choices may be arising on the global scene. Last week, Germany and France, in response to 132 000 people stating opposition to ISDS, are requesting to change it in the CETA. CETA is a backdoor deal with the US because much of Canada’s economy has been filled with American firms. The majority of US-based transnationals have subsidiaries in Canada and post-ratification, they could launch lawsuits at the EU. This deal also includes a wider variety of sectors for ISDS-suits to emerge like municipal procurement and banking. With European – North American trade regimes that include ISDS we are normalizing the practice of corporations suing citizens for laws that interfere with profit. GDP? New job markets? Is there any possible way to justify this to future generations?

Trade deals set the character of nation to nation relationship. Sadly, trade is now heavily mediated by private interests and few of its sections relate to goods. Wise trade requires a long lens. If a deal is forty years, then potential impacts should be explored for that long. ISDS will be a marker of historic proportion. When people look back at this time, they will want to know about each nation’s role. Maybe the best marker for the quality of a deal will be how often our descendants have cause to say, How could you?


The Battle to Buy Local

Some leaders in government are rejecting a binding treaty that diminishes buy-local and allows corporations to sue us if we don’t comply. Do the rest feel that it’s okay?

Being able to buy and source locally in goods and services is the heartbeat of a community. People value procurement power — it’s key to community security and happiness. Farmer’s market, post office, city square — local procurement not only secures jobs but it’s the fabric of community relationships. With free trade, local exchange is being shrunk to carve out markets for transnational corporations, and a super-national law system, ISDS, is being erected to enforce this goal.

Last week, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador took a stand. Premier Paul Davis told the federal Conservatives they would not take part in the CETA, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, without compensation. The province join an ignored group of approximately forty Canadian municipalities who between 2010 and 2014 sent resolutions to upper government requesting exclusion. The concern for the province and the city councils is CETA’s restrictions to buying and processing locally. Newfoundland is refusing to participate because of these impacts on fisheries. Jobs in fish plants are expected to be lost to align with the ban on local standards. The province says that the federal government originally agreed to compensate for the incalculable loss with $280 million in a fisheries fund.  The province wanted to use part of the money to help transition lost workers. CETA will nullify sub-national policy. Newfoundland and Labrador’s — Minimal Processing Requirements (MPR) — provincial rules to ensure that a percentage of fish from coastal waters is processed by local workers will be trumped by trade laws.

Newfoundland is not alone. In 2013 and 2014, Toronto requested the federal and provincial government exclude them because of restrictions imposed on essentials like local food networks. Toronto is unwilling to relinquish job creation initiatives. Some transit vehicles are sourced in the region on purpose. Though more expensive to set up locally, in the end, the jobs created boost Toronto’s economy and community well-being.

It’s not just the new CETA restrictions, it’s the severity of their enforcement under ISDS. If ignored, the government opens itself to lawsuits from transnational corporations. In this historical moment of developing the long-term rules of relationship between the EU and North America, instead of giving special legal rights to corporations for accessing contracts in our cities, we could rewrite procurement to explicitly protect local decision-making for jobs, environmental protections and social well-being. We could set a precedent for the security of the whole globe by removing ISDS from the CETA; this may be what Germany and France are now pushing for. Forget minimum standards of treatment for a corporation. Appropriate trade would set enforceable standards of treatment for people in Newfoundland and beyond.

Some sub-national governments are looking at the implications on communities in the future under these multi-decade treaties. It’s time the rest put on their spectacles. We need to source and build locally for jobs, for the climate, for our well-being. A legal system that battles for the rights of corporations to make profit has no business interfering with the ancient exchange of local goods and services. Who next is willing to stand up for local buying, building and being?

Further Reading: