Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- John Milloy discusses the difference between trade and corporate control - while noting that recent "trade agreements" have tended to favour the latter without being the subject of meaningful public debate:
For far too long, elites have characterized trade discussions as too complicated for the general public to understand. It’s time we engaged ordinary citizens. My only plea is that we don’t ignore the growing power and influence that multinationals and foreign investors are gaining through these agreements.

Modern-day trade agreements are not simply about country to country relations. Most also contain something known as Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions. These allow foreign investors and corporations to challenge a government’s policies, actions or decisions if they believe they will hurt their bottom line. To make matters worse, these matters are not dealt with through a country’s regular judicial system but instead by special trade tribunals that lack the same procedural protections as a court.

Not only is the process questionable, but it also allows corporations to challenge matters such as environmental, health and labour protections that they feel hurt their business. Under NAFTA, for example, corporations have challenged Canadian laws designed to prohibit the export of PCB waste; ban gasoline additives suspected of being neurotoxins; restrict fracking; and stop development in environmentally sensitive areas. In 1994 the tobacco giant Philip Morris International threatened a NAFTA suit if the federal government went ahead with plain packaging rules for cigarettes.
As the frequency of these challenges increases, are we going to start to see the erosion of vital programs — like public healthcare – as companies challenge the lack of private competition in these areas? Reminiscent to what happened in Canada, Philip Morris recently brought a claim against the Australian government’s plain-packaging laws for cigarette packs. Although unsuccessful, it does demonstrate the steps that corporations will take to challenge domestic policies.
It is worth questioning, however, the constraints being placed on us as we negotiate more and more trade agreements.  Sadly, few Canadians are even aware of them.  It took European complaints rather than Canadian ones, for example, to force changes to the Canadian European free trade agreement to provide greater protection for governments against foreign corporations.

As a nation we may decide that these infringements on our freedom of action are worth it, but let’s have the discussion.  Trade brings many benefits but isn’t it time we wake up to the full costs.
- And Deirdre Fulton notes that substantial public opposition has forced the European Union to give countries a say in whether to push forward with CETA.

- CBC reports on the provincial auditor's report (PDF) examining the Wall government's gross mishandling of land acquisitions for the Global Transportation Hub. And Tammy Robert thoroughly excoriates the Saskatchewan Party for its dishonesty and incompetence in dealing with carbon capture and storage.

- Mike de Souza exposes the veil of secrecy over pipelines which are found to be "ticking time bombs" by the National Energy Board. And Charles Pierce notes that the U.S. doesn't even have that level of monitoring of its own pipelines.

- Finally, Tom Stafford examines the underlying elements of trust - and finds that expertise tends to rank well below affinity in determining what people are willing to consider credible.

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