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Canada's Latest Shotgun Commitment to China

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This Thursday a new treaty is due to come into effect between Canada and China without debate or public discussion. It is called an Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) with China. The basic idea for it is that our companies, both resource companies and others, do not always get a fair shake in the Chinese legal system when they have disputes. This agreement will allow both countries to go to binding arbitration at an international tribunal. We have these agreements with many other countries, but there are growing worries that this particular deal is not actually equal to both countries...and Canada may be getting the short end of the stick. Getting out of the treaty is surprisingly difficult, and it would only be good for Canadian companies if they need to use this system more than China does and if China abides by it.

The assumption the Conservative government must be making is that Canada will do better under this system than we currently do. The risk is that while we may hope Canadian companies operating in China will gain a huge advantage by having this arbitration procedure what could actually happen is that the Canadian companies we are so concerned about would be bought out by Chinese companies instead. Under this agreement, "unreasonable" attempts to stop foreign takeovers could be brought to this very arbitration board and either mandated to be allowed or incur huge fines against Canada. Unsurprisingly, a lot of Canadians, especially in the West, don't like the sound of that. And they have reason to worry:

The proposed $15-billion acquisition of Calgary-based energy company Nexen Inc. by a Chinese state oil firm is triple the current total investments by Canadian firms in the communist country...

-- Canadian Press

So it seems unlikely the Conservative's assumption will hold, China already invests more in Canada than we do in China. Under this agreement that would only be expected to get worse, not better.

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The result could be disastorous and irreperable impacts on our economy and our sovereignty over our own resources. I don't know about the details of the legal disputes our companies are having in China but it seems as though such a wide-ranging and risky treaty should at the very least be openly and vigourously debated just as NAFTA was.

NAFTA was a huge national debate which cost Mulroney his government (oh...maybe that's why Harper isn't interested) and that was with two democratic  nations, including our greatest friend and ally the United States. So why does this deal have so much less to worry about when it is with China which is, to put it mildly, neither of those things?

Another question is why does protection of investors rank so much higher than all other concerns for national sovereignty, our ability as a nation to switch to more post-production of raw resources and our freedom to deal with impending climate change? Now is not the time to tie our hands on increasing extraction of highly polluting resources.

The world has reached consensus on climate change and scientists every day are realizing that their most skeptical worst-case scenarios of only a few years ago are now almost certain to come to pass sooner than they feared. If this treaty goes into effect on Thursday it will be active for 31 years, until 2043. By that point studies from 2009 already predicted that the arctic ocean will be completely ice free in summer, many now think it will happen much earlier, by 2020. Will there be any arctic at all to save by 2043?

We don't know, that's the point of not making huge commitments like this from a government that doesn't even like talking, thinking or researching about the long-term future. The next 30 years are our last chance to stop or even slow huge shifts in the Earth's climate patterns. The only point of this agreement seems to be to help investors in the short term until some Chinese companies buy them out and to provide more "it will hurt the economy and cost us money" arguments against making the hard decisions on slowing climate change.

For a great overview of the technical details of the agreement see this article from the CBC, and also these descriptions from the Green Party and constitutional lawyer Clayton Ruby where he describes the legal implications of the deal and his desire to make a challenge that the FIPA deal is unconstitutional.

Take Action

On Thursday the only parliamentary committee to discuss this treaty will be meeting, without witnesses, hear about it before the PM sends off to be signed. The only hope of stopping it is to raise enough public concern that even the Conservative MPs and Prime Minister Harper reconsider the wisdom of tying Canada's hand's into an unfair deal with an undemocratic country that has much more investment in our country than we have in their's. So, if you have an opinion about it let your voice be heard:Petitions and letters:
  • Forest Ethics -- sign their petition to support a constitutional challenge, they still have a way to go to get to the 30,000 signatures they need.
  • LeadNow -- sign their petition too.
  • SumOfUs -- great list of tips for writing meaningful letters to MPs and addresses for letters to the editor of newspapers.
Social Media:
  • Get #FIPA trending on Twitter, tweet, retweet and share. The media loves reading off tweets and using trends to guide their decision if a story is "important" or not, so use that and make the sound deafening. Canadians are a huge presence on Twitter. And who knows, if you can get a comment of concern from the Biebs himself you'll have an army of retweets as the #PRAYFORCANADA tweets of concern for all Canadians after the recent earthquake demonstrated :)
  • Comment with your thoughts below or on David's Suzuki's post and share via Facebook, Twitter, Google+
  • Follow ForestEthicsLeadNow, The David Suzuki Foundation and The Green Party on Facebook and share their great posts on this with your friends.