Monday, September 22, 2008

Will the Canada-EU Free Trade Agreement out-NAFTA NAFTA?

EUtopia - Be careful what you wish for.

Melvin J Howard, CEO of the Arizona-based Centurion Health Corporation, is in the process of filing a NAFTA Chapter 11 complaint against Canada's public healthcare system. Although our government has repeatedly assured us that Canadian healthcare is protected under NAFTA, recent tinkering with private clinic P-3s and privatization by the Quebec, BC, and Alberta governments has led Mr. Howard to believe he has a case, as argued on his blog :

1. Canada claims to have exemptions on their public health care system.
2. Canada has registered health insurance at the World Trade Organization as a financial service.
3. The World Trade Organization allows governments to exempt any service provided "in the exercise of government authority," as long as such services are not also available commercially.
4. Canadian private companies are already in the health business in Canada.
5. NAFTA dictates that Canadian, US, and Mexican businesses must have equal opportunities in all three countries.
6. Centurion has been barred from having the same investment opportunities private Canadian companies enjoy because it is based in the US.

Enter Chapter 11.

Mr. Howard is claiming $4 million in expenses and an additional $150 million in lost profit after a failed attempt to invest in the BC health care system. Although he has put his claim on hold until after the Canadian election, he states his intention to proceed "after the new Government is installed" if private negotiations with the federal government do not satify him.

Yesterday Red Tory was rather amused by my post about Harper's insistence on keeping his upcoming secret squirrel Canada-EU Free Trade Agreement negotiations out of the public eye till after the election. A "yawning non-story" and a "conspiracy theory", says Red, in spite of the fact that the EU negotiators have already pressured Canada into accepting, as a precondition of their participation, a stipulation "which would require that Canadian governments allow European companies to bid as equals on government contracts for both goods and services and end the favouring of local or national providers of public-sector services."

I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this.
After, say, a company in Liechtenstein wins the bid to run the CBC on a for-profit basis, how long do you think it will take Fox News to file a Chapter 11 complaint at the WTO? An extreme and unlikely scenario? To be sure, but I submit it to all of you who automatically assume that a free trade agreement with the EU would naturally provide a much-needed corrective balance to NAFTA and our trade dependence on the U.S.
Under the corporate-friendly conditions Canada has unfortunately already agreed to in the EU talks due to begin three days after the election, I see no assurance that the balance will necessarily tip in our favour.

As Christos Sirros, head of Quebec's mission to the EU explains : "Europe views such a relationship with Canada as a precursor to entering the U.S. market."

And Harper doesn't want to talk about it.

Cross-posted at Creekside

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