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The Non-News about TPP

The big MEDIA EVENT of the day is the TPP. In fact there is not much there.

FIRST, world trade was pretty free yesterday and it will be a tiny bit freer if the deal is ratified. Canada had few and generally small tariffs yesterday and some will disappear. The world has been moving toward freer trade for thousands of years. We already enjoy 98% of the benefits of free trade. So cool, it Dudes. not much has really happened.

SECOND, there really isn’t much credit to go around. Mr Harper was on the duty desk when the sun rose this morning. That doesn’t mean he made the sun rise. He didn’t make the tide come in, and he didn’t do anything to make the TPP happen except getting on the bus when he was called.

That doesn’t mean that the TPP won’t be a benefit to many many people. Some Canadian businesses will be better off. At least a few will be worse off. make The world will be a bit wealthier. Part of that wealth will be captured by a handful of big companies that got favourable treatment for their properties built into the deal. The rest will be spread so thinly that most people will probably not even notice.17768469126_cd62f159fc_b

THIRD, all of Canada’s major political parties support trade and approve the principle of freer trade. Whatever government was in power would have gone to the table when the TPP negotiations started. The simple fact is that it didn’t matter who was in power: we would be looking at a version of the TPP around now.

That means Mr Harper only did what anyone would do – Something like the TPP was coming. He can claim that he did something special, but trade deals have been on the agenda all around the world. He doesn’t get much credit for negotiating a deal. He is going to have to show that he got a better deal than other leaders would have.

FOURTH, there is no evidence so far that Mr. Harper’s team got us the best possible deal. We simply have no way of knowing at this stage what has been smuggled in under the pretense of freer trade.

FIFTH, leaked documents make it pretty clear that intellectual property protection, restrictions on labeling, expanded investor rights, longer copyright protection, more power for drug companies, increase government surveillance and other nasty or questionable provisions have been on the table.

The best image I can think of is that the government’s team has bought a truck that we are pretty sure we want, but we still don’t know how much cocaine was strapped to the frame before they brought it across the border. We won’t know what was smuggled in until the document has been released and thousands of Canadians have gone through it with a fine-toothed comb.

The negotiators for the US and Japan wanted expanded copyright terms because they have major companies that own huge collections of song, movie and book rights. EU negotiators are influenced by giant drug companies and want longer patent terms. They also want very strict limitation on sharing copyright materials, possibly even limiting the use in university courses.

Maybe some of these proposed rules are good for creators in the long run. Maybe they will encourage art and invention. The social value of the monopolies that these companies want is debatable. Certainly these provision will make lots of money for the companies. The real point is that Canadians have not discussed the trade-offs. Do we want rules that say we can’t insist on labeling milk products that contain traces of antibiotics? Do we really want unlabelled GMO products on our grocery shelves?

I am not saying I am against GMO’s or that I am convinced US milk inspection is not adequate for Canadian consumption. I am saying that a government that doesn’t listen to scientists and suspends them if they disagree with the Prime Minister probably isn’t qualified to make these decisions for us.

SIXTH, if I had been negotiating for Canada I would have been trying to get strengthened international standards for labour and the right to impose border adjustments on goods from countries with weaker carbon taxes or lower levels of publicly financed social security and healthcare. These are provisions that would raise world standards while giving us some freedom to strengthen our own environmental and social security system. I have no faith that our current government even thought of these demands.

SEVENTH, no matter what government negotiated the deal, Canada was going to be forced to give ground on supply management. Modelling suggests that Canadians would be the big winners form eliminating supply management, but no party has been willing to take on the dairy lobby, and that includes the Green Party.

The indications are that the immediate impact on the dairy industry will be small. On the other hand, Mr Harper has promised $4.3 billion to aid the transition. That suggests very strongly that the agreement includes almost total phasing out of the supply management system over time.

$4.3 billion sounds like a lot, but of course it is an election promise and Mr Harper has broken promises like this in the past. The promise is clearly an attempt to buy off opposition before an election, and it is clearly an example of spending Canadians’ money to buy a few votes.

EIGHTH, other parties have brought in an adjustment program when they gave up some or all of the supply management system. In all probability their plans would include more than just promising to throw money at farmers, but there would have been compensation. Canadian would expect some compensation for the small minority injured on behalf of the far greater majority. But again, this is a matter Canadians would probably like to discuss.

Mr Harper has also promised to spend $100 million a year for ten years to support the auto industry. Again this is the kind of vague budget allocation that he typically cuts back on later. More significantly, a single auto assembly plant will involve an investment in the range of $2 BILLION. The Prime Minister is trying to buy votes with chickenfeed in this case.

Overall, a deal like this was inevitable. The negotiators went home with some kind of proposal as we knew they would. We already knew roughly what would be in the deal and we still don’t know much more. Overall, the TPP is still a pig in a poke.

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