Thursday, August 18, 2011

NFU opposes EU free trade provisions

By Martha Tanner
August 2011

The National Farmers Union (NFU) has joined voices with the Council of Canadians to warn Canadians in general and the agricultural community in particular about the dangers/threat of the Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) being forged between Canada and the European Union.

Terry Boehm, president of the NFU, and Stuart Trew, trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians, met with about 40 members of the agricultural community in Corbyville, just north of Belleville, on June 30 to spread the word about CETA. The meeting was the last stop for Boehm on a three-day speaking tour of Southern Ontario that took him to Walkerton on June 28 and St. Mary’s on June 29. A Saskatchewan grain farmer, Boehm was in Ontario for NFU executive meetings, and has been spreading the word about CETA in the western provinces as well over the past year.

Boehm said he was horrified and shocked when he first read a draft of the agreement that was leaked to him in March 2010. He has since received the draft document from the October 2010 round of talks in Brussels and has travelled to Europe with the Trade Justice Network to monitor the talks.

"We are being led down the garden path," he said. "It’s called the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement and comprehensive is truly the word. This agreement intrudes into every aspect of economic and political life in this country and, in particular, penetrates right down to the municipal and county levels.

"It is a redefinition of the role of government in this country to act in the corporate interest."

The goal of CETA is to liberalize trade between Canada and the 27 member states of the EU. The latest round of talks was concluded in Brussels in mid-July and the ninth is scheduled for October. Both parties hope to sign the agreement next year.

The agreement covers areas such as trade in goods and services, investment, government procurement, regulatory cooperation, intellectual property, temporary entry of business persons, competition policy, labour, and environment.

The Canadian government believes that a closer partnership with its second-largest trading partner will have wide-reaching economic benefits.

Critics, including the NFU and the Council of Canadians, say the agreement would result in between 28,000 and 150,000 lost jobs, increase drug costs by $2.8-billion, and threaten buy-local purchasing policies at the municipal level.

It will also, charges Boehm, create a culture of fear in the countryside.

According to Boehm, anyone who is simply accused of violating a gene patent or other intellectual property right could have his property and assets seized and his bank account frozen before the case is even heard in court. In the case of a contaminated crop, for example, the crop would be effectively seized as well and any equipment used to produce that crop could be destroyed. Any third party alleged to have assisted in the infringement would be subject to the same seizure provisions.

"You only need to make a few examples and interrupt the farming cycle for a few people once, twice, here or there, and we’ve seen it in western Canada, we’ve experienced it to a certain extent with patents already," warned Boehm. "There are certainly powers that are being used and threats of legal action that cause farmers to comply to lose their autonomy, but this would just bump it up. You interrupt a production cycle on a farm, when farmers are in the middle of or in advance of seeding, they have bills to pay, and other manufacturers have bills to pay, they can’t meet their obligations, and they’re bankrupt. What this is really about is control and it’s control of food. And if you can control seed and you can exercise these sorts of threats, you have massive amounts of power. What I want to say to you as farmers, is that we actually have massive amounts of power, we are the food producers. And if we allow this sort of thing to take away our autonomy and our ability to grow food in the way that we see fit or even to market it locally as many people want, we’re in a lot of trouble."

Boehm said that the western provinces are sadly mistaken in their belief that CETA will open up the European market to their genetically-modified (GM) crops. "Clearly they haven’t read the agreement, because if you read the agreement carefully, in appendix 1B, all European GM regulations are exempted from provisions of this agreement.

Implications for farmers also include reduced spending on farm support program, denying farmers the right to save, re-use, exchange and sell seed, and erosion of the Canadian Wheat Board and supply management for dairy, poultry and eggs.

Procurement policies being pushed by the EU would affect the power of all levels of government, schools and hospitals to support buy local programs and tendering practices.

The NFU and the Council of Canadians are urging supporters to spread the word and to present their case to their municipal councils. "Going after municipal politicians and asking them what they know about CETA, passing resolutions rejecting the procurement pieces and transmitting it up to provinces can indeed stop this," said Boehm. " All it takes is one province to reject this and it doesn’t come together.

"We can push back and we will push back."

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