European is Targeting Canada’s Public Services

Sunday 1 September 2002, by Murray DOBBIN

You have to hand it to the free trade zealots in DFAIT - the federal Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Almost nothing shakes them in their determination to stonewall, obfuscate, mislead and otherwise sucker our elected representatives. To what end? To convince them that they have absolutely nothing to worry about in current World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations on services. The official departmental theme song? Don’t worry, be happy. This despite a long string of unexpected losses for Canada at the hands of international trade panels.

But now the cat is out of the bag. A couple of weeks back, someone leaked a copy of the European Commission’s (EC) wish list of Canadian institutions and regulations they want eliminated. This is by no means a complete list. That won’t be revealed until the final stage of bargaining starting sometime in 2004. But even as a partial list, it is extremely aggressive and far-reaching. Any provincial politician who actually has an interest in governing should be galvanized into action by this document.

One of the biggest items on the EC’s hit list of services is water. European water corporations dominate the global market for water treatment and distribution systems. These multi-billion dollar corporations have enormous influence with their governments and they want nothing less than completely unrestricted access to every water system on the planet. A French water corporation executive has even invoked France’s history of conquest as the legacy to be restored through acquisition of water systems worldwide. The EC (which represents the European Union at the WTO) is asking Canada to completely open all services involving "water collection, purification and distribution services through mains..." to foreign competition.

If Canadian governments decide to privatize, the EC wants Canada to remove any rules designed to ensure the privatized service remains in Canadian hands. The EC is asking all governments in Canada to get rid of any limitations on foreign acquisition of privatized services despite the fact that European countries themselves maintain these limitations. Hypocrisy is no barrier to success in free trade negotiations.

What is most disturbing about the EC’s aggressive targeting of Canadian regulations is that Canada has brought this on itself. In the secretive world of trade negotiations, Canadian officials are constantly boasting that Canada has taken the lead in pushing for expanded liberalization of services. Virtually every public service is now vulnerable.

Canada’s negotiators, unleashed by a long succession of eager and naive trade ministers, have played a dangerous game of redefining important public policy initiatives, principles and objectives as "barriers to trade." This despite the fact that Canadian business has shown a decided lack of interest in the negotiations, and want trade officials to focus on more immediate problems.

Of course, just because the EC asks for something doesn’t mean Canada has to agree. But this is a bargaining process. If we want something from Europe then we have to give something up in return. With respect to public health and education, Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew has repeatedly told Canadians these are not on the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) bargaining table. He has argued that just because Canada is seeking access to other countries’ health and education "markets" (by asking that they open up public systems to private competition) doesn’t mean that Canada has to open up its public systems.

That’s a glib answer. Just what is Canada going to put on the bargaining table in exchange for European countries opening, say, their health systems to Canadian companies? Whatever it is, it will have to be significant, because health is a huge investment plum. And the EC is a big player, second only to the US in its bargaining clout. In the last minute bargaining that will occur in the GATS negotiations, what will Canada give up? Specifically, what provincial and municipal laws, regulations and public services will be sacrificed?

Once trade-offs are made, provinces can complain all they like but there will be no going back. Every concession is part of the whole bargaining web from which no single strand can be withdrawn. Provincial governments had better pay attention now, because they will not be at the table when the last minute decisions are made.

The author is also columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press.

Vous avez aimé cet article?

  • Le Journal des Alternatives vit grâce au soutien de ses lectrices et lecteurs.

    Je donne

Cet article est classé dans :

Partagez cet article sur :

Articles de la même rubrique

Vol. 7 No. 1

The American Offensive

Articles du même auteur


What really fuels immigration

Je m’abonne

Recevez le bulletin mensuel gratuitement par courriel !

Je soutiens

Votre soutien permet à Alternatives de réaliser des projets en appui aux mouvements sociaux à travers le monde et à construire de véritables démocraties participatives. L’autonomie financière et politique d’Alternatives repose sur la générosité de gens comme vous.

Je contribue

Vous pouvez :

  • Soumettre des articles ;
  • Venir à nos réunions mensuelles, où nous faisons la révision de la dernière édition et planifions la prochaine édition ;
  • Travailler comme rédacteur, correcteur, traducteur, bénévole.

514 982-6606