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Issue #1445      3 March 2010

Canada-US procurement deal condemned

The determination of the Harper Tories to press ahead with “deep integration” with the United States has been revealed again by the new Canada-US procurement (Buy American) agreement, and the impending Canada-European Union trade agreement.

The “Buy American” agreement would bind the hands of present and future provincial governments, in return for access to a mere US$4 billion in potential US government contracts. This agreement would accept World Trade Organisation rules that restrict or even ban policies that encourage local development, such as “buy local” or domestic content rules, or investment requirements.

The WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement (signed by only 40 countries) explicitly forbids governments and agencies from including any condition or undertaking on government contracts. By signing Harper’s deal, the premiers may surrender important economic and social policy tools used by provinces, cities, universities, school boards, social service entities and hospitals.

According to CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn, under terms revealed in leaked copies of the deal, Ontario will become the only province allowing unrestricted access to countries who have signed onto the WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement for publicly-funded contracts supplying schools, universities, social services and hospitals.

Appearing with the Council of Canadians at a joint news conference, Hahn said, “This is a bad deal for Ontario and Ontarians should be aware of what their government is giving away before it’s too late. We are concerned that, in the long term, Ontario will be the only province required to give permanent and unfettered access to these vital sectors in the new trade deal when most of the other provinces and territories have exempted them and Quebec has protected itself with a clause exempting anything that pertains to culture.”

Hahn is worried about local food procurement policies in place in the City of Toronto, and bottled water bans in cities and regions across Ontario. Fair wage policies in place in Hamilton or Greater Sudbury’s “Made in Canada” policy may also come under attack from American and foreign corporations. He points to Appendix A of the Agreement which lists the permanent commitments being made by Canada under the WTO’s GPA as a major area of concern. He is also sceptical that the “interim” commitments on “enhanced access” that are being made directly to the US in Appendix C will ever come off the books.

Other Ontario labour leaders also fear that the deal gives away far too much in return for far too little and say that Premier Dalton McGuinty should refuse to sign on.

“This deal would limit the power of the provincial government to harness all the possible economic levers at its disposal to deal with the economic crisis,” said Hahn. “The race to sell off or give away our province needs to end and the Premier should not sign this deal.”

Meanwhile, secretive negotiations are underway for a Canada-European Union trade agreement, which would give Canadian corporations better access to European markets in exchange for access by European corporations to Canadian services contracts amounting to as much as US$200 billion annually. Such an agreement would put even further pressure on provincial governments to privatise public services such as utilities, transportation, child care, education and public health care.

Delegates at the recent Communist Party of Canada convention, held on February 5-7 in Toronto, warned that if Canadian and transnational capital succeed in imposing these deals, the result would be yet another critical blow against Canadian sovereignty. The final document adopted by the convention stresses that “everything possible must be done to mobilise the labour and democratic movements to expose and block these treacherous sellouts.”

People’s Voice, Communist Party of Canada.   

Next article –  The struggle for Brisbane’s urban transport –the fight against privatisation

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