Ayear ago Steve Verheul, Canada’s chief negotiator on the Canada – European Union (EU) Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), lamented such an important deal should be attracting more public interest.
The talks now have the National Farmers Union’s (NFU) full attention; based on a secret draft text obtained in July, the organization says an accord will not only hurt farmers, but Canadians generally.
“It’s not about trade per se, it’s more about opening up Canada to these other players,” NFU president Terry Boehm said in an interview Oct. 14.
“It will change the face of agriculture and the autonomy of farmers and who controls the food system and what kind of agriculture takes place on their farms.”
The NFU, along with a long list of citizen groups, have launched a campaign to urge the public to oppose the deal.
The proposed agreement’s title is telling, Boehm said. It’s a “comprehensive.” The deal is about more than reducing tariffs and liberalizing trade, Boehm said. If there is no deal it will have almost no impact on Canadians as EU tariffs on Canadians’ products average just two per cent, according to Boehm.
But if an accord is reached, EU corporations will get equal access to Canadian goods and services. The result, according to Boehm, would be federal, provincial and municipal governments will no longer have the right to favour local businesses.
Boehm predicted the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) and supply management would likely disappear given the EU’s hostility towards both at the World Trade Organization talks.
The draft text says state trading enterprises will be dealt with in a separate chapter.
Boehm said the deal will restrict and discourage farmers from saving and growing their own seed – a change that will add substantially to farmers’ costs and enrich seed companies.
The draft text proposes Canada adopt UPOV (Union for the Protection of New Var iet ies of Plants) 91, a stronger form of Plant Breeders’ Rights legislation.
Boehm said the deal proposes even more draconian rules to protect intellectual property.
For example, Provisional and Precautionary Measures, Article 19, Clause 3 says if authorities suspect a violation, such as farmers planning to plant seed they don’t have rights to, “judicial authorities may order the precautionary seizure of the movable and immovable property of the alleged infringer, including the blocking of his/her bank accounts and other assets.”
“A farmer’s inventory, equipment and land could be seized,” Boehm said. “Farmers would toe the line and just buy all their seed to avoid the threat.”
However, a deal would not open the EU to Canadian genetically modified crops. Canadian negotiators’ goal is to get the EU to agree to accept a cer tain level of adventitious presence instead of its current zero-tolerance policy.
The Canadian government says an agreement with the EU could boost trade 20 per cent, adding $12 billion a year to Canada’s economy.
“Canada is committed to negotiating a comprehensive agreement that will open doors for business and help create jobs for Canadians,” International Trade Minister Peter Van Loan said in an email.
“In this time of economic uncertainty, this government is working to open new markets and create opportunities for Canadians.”
Van Loan added the federal government is working closely with all provinces and territories, which are directly involved in the negotiations, which began last year.
The fifth round of talks began this week in Ottawa.
The goal is to reach an agreement by May 2011, Verheul told a Canada Grains Council meeting in Ottawa last November.
A year ago he said everything was on the negotiating table and predicted there would be a very big deal – one that’s more complex and comprehensive than the North American Free Trade Agreement – or no deal at all.
“We have agreed to negotiate all aspects of our economic relationship so all of our market access and goods and services is under negotiation,” Verheul said. “Issues like government procurement, government investment, labour mobility, regulatory issues, sanitary, phytosanitary issues, technical barriers to trade – all of that is on the table for negotiation as well as areas of co-operation.”
Verheul said the public needs to be engaged in the process. “If we’re going to get a big deal… there has to be a lot of support from those sectors that stand to benefit… and we’ll need it too to override some of those interests that will say we don’t want this…
“And there will be some hard political decisions down the road.”
“Itwillchangethefaceofagriculture andtheautonomyoffarmersandwho controlsthefoodsystemandwhatkindof agriculturetakesplaceontheirfarms.”
– terry boehm