Prime Minister Stephen Harper is basking in the uncritical media reporting of his state visit to China. His "open for business" message has been very well received in Beijing where he has just signed a slew of trade and investment deals in energy, agriculture, and natural resources. Small wonder. The world is running out of conventional energy, land, water, and natural resources. China, as the emerging superpower, needs unfettered and unconditional access to all of these.
What a difference a majority makes! Back when Stephen Harper was in opposition, he scolded the Paul Martin government for soft peddling human rights when it comes to China and promised he would never sell human rights out to the "almighty dollar." Now, Canada and China have signed a Foreign Investment Protection Agreemen (FIPA) -- a powerful tool used by corporations to undermine the public good globally that will be used by Canadian corporations to further their interests in China by taking advantage of the poor labour and environmental standards in that country.
While we have yet to see the details of this FIPA, it is likely that it gives corporations the same rights contained in NAFTA and the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), now in negotiation. FIPAs give corporations of one country the right to sue the government of another country for imposing domestic environmental, health and safety, and human rights standards that negatively affect their bottom line. American firms have used NAFTA to extract over $160 million from lawsuits against Canadian public policy.
As well, in 2010, under a FIPA threat but without even going to a NAFTA tribunal, the Harper government paid $130 million to American pulp and paper giant Abitibi Bowater, for the water and timber "rights" it left behind when the company voluntarily abandoned its operations in Newfoundland. This set a dangerous precedent for foreign companies to claim water and resource rights in other countries.
China has been an attractive base for global manufacturing and exporters because of its abundant natural resources (now threatened from decades of abuse), extremely low wages, and lax environmental standards. The political and human rights situation in China remains abysmal. Social unrest is increasing and the extent of environmental degradation from rapid industrialization is truly shocking.
The newly signed investor-right deal will provide yet another barrier in the way of needed reforms in China. The last thing Canada should be pushing in China right now is a legal right-of-way for Canadian corporations to challenge measures that interfere with their profits.
There are threats to Canadian environmental and human rights standards from this deal too. The flip side of this investment deal is that new Chinese investment in the tar sands or the uranium mines would be locked in as Chinese investors would have the same right to sue Canada for any new rules to protect the environment, local communities or First Nations peoples from harmful, intrusive extractive industry practices.
Yet Stephen Harper is aggressively selling Canada's tar sands and other energy and natural resources to China and willing to give it investor rights unavailable to Canadian firms operating domestically.
Accompanying Harper in China is none other than Patrick Daniel, head of Enbridge, the company planning to build the Northern Gateway pipeline that would carry Alberta bitumen to ports in B.C. to be shipped by tanker to China. In giving the company such a prominent role in the China trip, Harper is making a mockery of his own government's environmental assessment hearings on Gateway, clearly signalling his eventual approval of the project regardless of the outcome of the review.
Daniel is joined by Marcel Coutu, CEO of Canadian Oil Sands Ltd, which holds a stake in the syncrude oil venture along with China Petroleum Corp, Tim Gitzel, chief executive of Cameco Corp, the world's largest uranium producer, and 37 other corporate executives. Canada is indeed open for business.
Instead of promoting corporate friendly trade and investment deals that profit only the privileged, Canadians should be standing shoulder to shoulder with the Chinese people seeking better working conditions, improved human rights, and a clean environment in both our countries.
The China trip makes it clear once and for all that Stephen Harper has put human rights on the back burner and seeks to promote the interests of the global energy and extractive industries at all costs.
Here are a few details of the major investment deal coming soon between Canada and China, as well as a list of what CBC chief political correspondent Terry Milewski calls a "small blizzard of incremental agreements," signed in Beijing. <em>With files from CBC</em>. (Diego Azubel-PoolGetty Images)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper called the foreign investment promotion and protection agreement (FIPA) between Canada and China the first "comprehensive economic agreement" between the two countries. In fact, what was signed by Harper and Chinese Premier Wen Jaibao in Beijing is not the final deal, but a declaration of intent: Now it must be legally reviewed and ratified by both governments, which for Canada will mean a debate in the House of Commons. Once both countries complete this process, it will need to be formally signed to take effect. This deal will protect Canadians investing in China, as well as Chinese investors in Canada, from "discriminatory and arbitrary practices." Once in place, investors can have more confidence that rules will be enforced and valuable business deals will be subject to predictable legal practices. Harper told reporters in Beijing he "absolutely" expected that it will make a "practical difference." "The agreement does not override existing Canadian law in regard to foreign investment and foreign investment review," Harper said. "Those laws remain in place." Negotiations for this agreement took 18 years, and key players in manufacturing, mining and the financial sectors were consulted to get to this stage. It's not unusual for Canada to have this kind of an agreement with a trading partner. FIPAs are in force with 24 other countries that trade with Canada, and active negotiations are underway with 10 other countries, according to the government's announcement. (Diego Azubel-PoolGetty Images)
(AP Photo/Valentina Petrova)
- A new protocol, building on a 2010 agreement to restore Canada's market access to the Chinese market for Canadian beef following the 2003 BSE outbreak and resulting border closures, to allow industrial beef tallow (fat) to be imported for the first time in almost a decade. China used to be Canada's top export market for tallow ($31 million in 2002), and now Canada has a shot at a share of the $400 million in tallow China imports from around the world. - A memorandum of understanding (MOU) on canola research, to address a recent fungal disease in canola and rapeseed that threatens Canada's valuable trading relationship with China in canola. - On Tuesday, Chinese aquaculture feed company Tongwei announced it will increase its purchase of Canadian canola by up to $240 million per year by 2015. (DAVID BUSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
- A MOU between Natural Resources Canada and the Chinese Academy of Sciences to collaborate on scientific research on sustainable development of natural resources. The government release touts benefits including new technologies for resource firms, carbon emissions reduction strategies, reduced environmental impacts and natural hazards from resource development, and new opportunities for Canadian suppliers of equipment and services. - A MOU spelling out a "framework" for Parks Canada and China's state forestry administration to collaborate and share scientific expertise in the management of national parks, natural reserves and other protected areas. The agreement includes language around ecological restoration, conservation measures for endangered wildlife, wetlands development, and the preservation of forests and wetlands. (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/47096398@N08/" target="_hplink">Flickr: eleephotography</a>)
- A continuation of the MOU, first signed in 2001 and renewed in 2006, on energy co-operation to "engage China on energy issues" through a Canada-China joint working group on energy co-operation, chaired by Natural Resources Canada and China's national energy administration, which is responsible for Chinese energy policy. The working group oversees joint research projects, exchange of expertise, and co-operation between energy companies in both countries, including the promotion of energy efficiency and renewables. It aims to both attract capital investment and improve market access for Canadian energy resources and technology. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
- Approval of seven projects, valued at $10 million, under the Canada-China framework for co-operation on science and technology and innovation, including: a diagnostic kit for acute kidney injuries, a wind energy seawater desalination system, a waste heat-recovery system to help oil refineries consume less fuel, new solar cells for renewable energy panels, a real-time multi-sensor navigational tracking device for hand-held devices, a blue-green algae bloom warning system and "next generation" large-scale geographic information systems. - Two more calls for proposals, valued at $18 million ($9 million from each country) for joint research under the same framework. These proposals are for the development of "innovations with high commercial potential" in the areas of human vaccines and clean automotive transportation. The Canada-China joint committee on science and technology, made up of individuals from industry, academia and government, sets the priorities and oversees these projects. (To date, 21 projects ranging from nuclear power to AIDS drugs, to clean technologies for pulp and paper have received some $28 million in funding.) (TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images)
- A renewed MOU extending and modifying the Canada-China scholars' exchange program, which has seen 900 students travel between Canada and China since 1973. New eligibility rules and scholarships will be in place for the next round of competitions in 2012, including eight to 12 Canadian scholarships for Chinese professionals and 20 awards for Canadian university students. (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/plutor/" target="_hplink">Flickr: Plutor</a>)