Being able to buy and source locally in goods and services is the heartbeat of a community. People value procurement power — it’s key to community security and happiness. Farmer’s market, post office, city square — local procurement not only secures jobs but it’s the fabric of community relationships. With free trade, local exchange is being shrunk to carve out markets for transnational corporations, and a super-national law system, ISDS, is being erected to enforce this goal.
Last week, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador took a stand. Premier Paul Davis told the federal Conservatives they would not take part in the CETA, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, without compensation. The province join an ignored group of approximately forty Canadian municipalities who between 2010 and 2014 sent resolutions to upper government requesting exclusion. The concern for the province and the city councils is CETA’s restrictions to buying and processing locally. Newfoundland is refusing to participate because of these impacts on fisheries. Jobs in fish plants are expected to be lost to align with the ban on local standards. The province says that the federal government originally agreed to compensate for the incalculable loss with $280 million in a fisheries fund. The province wanted to use part of the money to help transition lost workers. CETA will nullify sub-national policy. Newfoundland and Labrador’s — Minimal Processing Requirements (MPR) — provincial rules to ensure that a percentage of fish from coastal waters is processed by local workers will be trumped by trade laws.
Newfoundland is not alone. In 2013 and 2014, Toronto requested the federal and provincial government exclude them because of restrictions imposed on essentials like local food networks. Toronto is unwilling to relinquish job creation initiatives. Some transit vehicles are sourced in the region on purpose. Though more expensive to set up locally, in the end, the jobs created boost Toronto’s economy and community well-being.
It’s not just the new CETA restrictions, it’s the severity of their enforcement under ISDS. If ignored, the government opens itself to lawsuits from transnational corporations. In this historical moment of developing the long-term rules of relationship between the EU and North America, instead of giving special legal rights to corporations for accessing contracts in our cities, we could rewrite procurement to explicitly protect local decision-making for jobs, environmental protections and social well-being. We could set a precedent for the security of the whole globe by removing ISDS from the CETA; this may be what Germany and France are now pushing for. Forget minimum standards of treatment for a corporation. Appropriate trade would set enforceable standards of treatment for people in Newfoundland and beyond.
Some sub-national governments are looking at the implications on communities in the future under these multi-decade treaties. It’s time the rest put on their spectacles. We need to source and build locally for jobs, for the climate, for our well-being. A legal system that battles for the rights of corporations to make profit has no business interfering with the ancient exchange of local goods and services. Who next is willing to stand up for local buying, building and being?
Trade Justice London
London, Ontario Chapter
Council of Canadians