Can this election halt NAFTA on Steroids (a.k.a. the TPP)?

By Gerard Di Trolio

hulk-tpp1The Trans-Pacific Partnership has quietly emerged as an issue during the federal election. It should receive the scrutiny it deserves.

First we learned that Canada would continue to be part of the negotiations during the election with Canada’s Privy Council declaring that this was possible so long as no “drastic” actions like ratification were taken.

Then speaking in Montreal on Aug. 5, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair said he was “enthusiastically in favour” of the TPP, which encompasses a number of countries bordering the Pacific Ocean accounting for 40 percent of global GDP.

Mulcair would go on to blast the Harper government’s boorish reputation in the international arena as being an impediment to finalizing a deal and announced that he would be an effective negotiator that could sign a deal while retaining supply management to protect Canada’s dairy industry.

Meanwhile Liberal leader Justin Trudeau also supports the TPP while criticizing Harper for the secretive nature of the negotiations.

Only Green Party leader Elizabeth May has offered any serious opposition and critique of the deal.

Despite the consensus of the major parties, the TPP must be rejected.

The TPP “serves the interests of the wealthiest,” says former World Bank economist Joseph Stiglitz, who the NDP invited to address their convention in 2013 to talk about economic inequality.

Given no final agreement has been reached, the final text of the TPP could also pose problems for the election platforms of the Liberals and NDP.

Any environmental regulations proposed by the Liberals and the NDP to ameliorate Harper’s regressive policies could be at risk as the TPP may constrain regulations on fossil fuel industries and the protection of wildlife. We already know that the Harper government has been fighting the few environmental regulations in the TPP.

And while the Liberals and the NDP have been promising a reset of relations with First Nations, Indigenous groups have been scathing with their criticisms of the TPP. The TPP would further embolden the rights of multinational energy companies that already encroach on Indigenous land in Canada, the US, Peru, Mexico, Australia, and New Zealand.Leaders_of_TPP_member_states

The whole secretive process of the TPP thus far has also undermined the concept of free, prior, informed consent, which is a major part of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous peoples must be made aware and accept policies that will affect them.

A lot of the recent news coming out of talks directly affect Canada. First we hear that the United States kept its NAFTA partners Canada and Mexico in the dark while negotiating with Japan on how many cars produced in TPP signatory countries that it would have to let in. The early deal hammered out between the US and Japan could have negative effects on Canadian auto parts manufacturers if adopted in the final text.

Recently, we have learned from a leaked draft of the TPP that it would require Canada to substantially rework its copyright laws, again with corporations being the main beneficiaries.

As with many trade deals these days, like CETA with the European union, there are concerns about what the TPP will mean for the cost of pharmaceuticals. It is expected that the TPP will prevent the earlier emergence of generic drugs in many jurisdictions, pushing up medical costs.

Of course TPP talks have faltered in the past and a new bottleneck has just emerged. New Zealand has drawn a line in the sand over access to dairy markets in Canada, the U.S., and Japan. Both the Conservatives and the NDP have pledged to protect supply management. There is domestic pressure in the U.S. and Japan as well to protect their farmers. The question is, does Canada’s political class have the will to walk away from a deal they were so enthusiastic about over supply management? Perhaps, but few states have been walking out of free trade deals these days.

According to an April 2015 Angus Reid poll, 41 percent of Canadians support the TPP while only 11 percent are against it. But there is a whopping 48 percent of Canadians who either don’t know about the deal or enough about it to take a position. This high level of indecision is hardly shocking given how the talks are being conducted and how the Harper government communicates with the public.

Here would be an opportunity for the NDP to assemble a coalition of labour unions (who were vocally anti-TPP up until a few months ago, but silent during the election so far), First Nations, environmentalists, internet privacy activists, and progressive health care professionals to reach out to the public and explain why the TPP is bad for Canada and the world.

There is a rising progressive sentiment in Canada and across the world. Now is the time to make the case against these trade agreements, after all these years of being told that free trade is essential to economic growth.

If the NDP finds itself forming the government after Oct. 19, this could easily become the first issue where it damages its relations with its base. And for what? Mostly to show Bay Street that it can be a “responsible” economic manager of capitalism.

Regardless of who wins the election, there are a number of issues where movements will have to push from below on. Given the timeline of the negotiations, a renewed anti-TPP movement may be the first extra-parliamentary challenge facing the next government of Canada.

It’s time to start making plans for after Oct. 19 already.

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