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Nova Scotia needs evidence on CETA

The Chronicle Herald by Christine Saulnier and Angela Giles 1 November 2012

EU officials were in Halifax last week selling the benefits of the CETA for Nova Scotia, but saying very little about the costs. This newspaper reported officials as reassuring Nova Scotians that we will benefit, or at least our fisheries industry will benefit. As for costs, apparently we shouldn’t worry too much about the patent term extension of generic drugs, or about removing municipalities’ ability to consider local benefits in procurement contracts. The evidence to support why we shouldn’t worry was not reported in the media.

The only official Canadian government report about the CETA was unbalanced and left out critical economic factors or assumed full employment. Moreover, since the negotiations got underway in 2009, the value of the Canadian dollar relative to the euro has increased by 19 per cent, calling into question many of the conclusions made in the federal government’s report about benefits.

Last week, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-NS released a report that examined the costs and benefits. Actual job losses are predicted to be between 687 and 2,717. Many of these will be in manufacturing and will only very slightly be offset by possible gains in the fisheries that might be as low as 56 or as high as 364 jobs.

Moreover, CETA threatens to restrict the authority and autonomy of elected governments to enact public policy in support of local economic benefits. Irving Shipbuilding was able to bid for the shipbuilding contracts competing only against other Canadian suppliers because of Canadian sourcing rules for military procurement. Also, Ottawa could include consideration of local benefits in the selection criteria. If either of these measures were prohibited, the Irving bid may not have succeeded. While military procurement will be excluded from CETA, the threat posed by the CETA against any kind of “buy local” initiative is a serious one.

Public procurement in Nova Scotia is estimated to amount to $3.64 billion per year. Losing the ability to focus on local procurement would be a lost opportunity for our communities.

Under pressures to open up more of our local economy and public services to the private sector, government decisions may be increasingly subject to claims through the investor-state dispute resolution systems proposed for the CETA. Our experience with NAFTA raises red flags.

Take for example the case being brought by Bilcon against the government of Nova Scotia. Bilcon is particularly displeased that the environmental review panel that decided against the company’s proposal for a quarry included consideration of whether it fit with the community’s “core values.” More than $188 million is on the line in this case.

As for the drug costs that Nova Scotia shouldn’t worry about: CETA threatens the province’s ability to enact fair drug-pricing policy because the proposed changes to Canada’s drug patent system would add about $70 million annually to Nova Scotia’s prescription drug costs.

A cornerstone of Nova Scotia’s renewable energy strategy is support for local producers, but this could be interpreted as an unfair advantage by Europe.

It is also too risky to assume that Nova Scotia farmers can withstand an increase in European imports or be able to increase their access the European markets. Rather, European imports could effectively undermine supply-management and do significant damage to our dairy sector.

The CETA could also open up post-secondary education to greater numbers of private companies. This means, for example, a privately funded, for-profit business or medical school could be set up in Nova Scotia, and the government would be powerless to prevent it or exercise any control over how it operates.

Nova Scotians deserve information and data weighing the full economic and social costs and benefits. We deserve more than reassurances without evidence.

Christine Saulnier is CCPA-NS director and Angela Giles is with the Council of Canadians. Access the report CETA and Nova Scotia at www.policyalternatives.ca.