If you were devising a legal plan for the management of your country’s assets, which principles would guide you?
Trade’s Influence – More powerful than national law, trade sets the course for all our futures. Sounds quite over-puffed, I know. But stay with me for a sec. In the last few decades, trade deals have become legal frameworks for the management of a nation’s assets by the corporations of a partner country. They basically guarantee profit for transnationals in specified sectors. The rules apply far beyond goods. Treaties commonly include assets under local domain like energy, water, transit, and essential national jurisdiction like financials, crown corporations and communications. It doesn’t help that we seldom hear about ISDS lawsuits – one-sided legal courts where corporations sue nations for their policy that prevents profit. And when we do, the words are so abstract that we don’t feel their gravity. Because trade deals are written in private from so high above the grassroots, it’s hard at first to see their impact on the local community.
Canada’s High Trade Deficit — It was reported last week on Yahoo news that Canada has reached its second largest trade deficit. Not surprising I suppose as Canada is becoming a resource-based trading economy. We are creating a nation that trades away millennia-aged resources, while other countries establish value-added markets, based on exports like technology that fetch higher prices and promote longer term employment. Besides the short-sightedness of focusing prosperity on things that can be extracted once, never to be replaced to the earth, Canada in general, takes a tiny lens to trade.
Short-term Goals at the Grand Children’s Expense — Our priority has been securing short-term business investment from corporations by removing rules of conduct. In the form of national or local policy to protect public health, environment, regional economic development, rules for corporations are called performance requirements, and they are illegal in trade. Under the enforcement of Investor State or ISDS, corporations have legal grounds to sue countries for public policy that could diminish anticipated profits. Citizens cannot sue back. Canada has signed many bilateral trade and investment deals in the last decade with Columbia, South Korea, China and more. These plans are focused on the profit-making capacity of the few of this generation. For the next, what will be left?
Trade for the Generations — If the goal were the security of the generations, a trade deal would measure success differently. Imagine an ecos — Latin root of economy & ecology which means home — measure that was scaled on how well it provided multi-generational protection of significant ecosystems while creating sustainable, value-added jobs. We would use 3-D measures, not the simplified surplus-deficit or the GDP as the basis of our multi-decade plans. Bhutan uses the Well-Being Index as a guide for policy decisions. Trade could support the call for ethical business, if it were to bring other parties to the table. Public organizations and elders of the First Nations could provide insight. Trade would become more robust if it were to hear the voices of its greatest stakeholders — the citizens of this planet.
Understanding the generational impacts of trade treaties will help secure a global future. Only with comprehending the potency of trade law, will we be able to course correct.