Comment – Final Environmental Assessment of the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement

Below is the text of my letter (email) of comment on the Final Environmental Assessment of the Canada-China FIPA.

It is weak. I am scrambling on the last day of comment, from my holiday suite with an intermittent internet connection, to read what I can find on the agreement and it’s implications. This illustrates problems with the environmental assessment of trade agreements in general and the Canada-China FIPA in particular. There is not adequate engagement with the public, if one is to assume that the intent to seek public comment is sincere. Nor is there time for the public to study the issues and respond once engaged.

The initial environmental assessment of this agreement received no public comment. Are we to believe that Canadians looked at it and thought “Meh, looks fine.”? Not one person had any concerns? Not one person had any questions? Not one crack-pot wrote in and said aliens were reading our minds and this trade agreement is the proof!? Canadians were content to let this agreement proceed?

Of course that’s not the case. What happened is that it slipped entirely under the radar of the Canadian public and the government took that as acquiescence.

Then they make the agreement public on 26 September with ratification allowed on 2 November, before the period for public comment on the final environmental assessment is even up. They allow no debate in the House of Commons and entirely inadequate time for parliamentarians (much less average Canadian citizens) to study the issue.

Any elected representative complicit in this sham should feel shame if they have any.

The letter I sent with CC to members of Cabinet, my MP and Elizabeth May follows.

——

Environmental Assessments of Trade Agreements
Trade Agreements and NAFTA Secretariat
Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada
125 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0G2
Fax: (613) 992-9392
E-mail: EAconsultationsEE@international.gc.ca

11 November 2012

To whom it may concern,

The following comments are submitted as part of the Environmental Assessment of the Canada-China Foreign Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement (FIPA) signed in Vladivostok, Russia, on September 8th, 2012, and tabled in the House of Commons on September 26th, 2012.

In my opinion the Environmental Assessments of the Canada-China FIPA and the process of environmental review of trade agreements are badly flawed. The fact that no public comments were received on the Initial Environmental Assessment of the Canada-China FIPA is a clear indication that attempts to engage the public are inadequate. Can anyone truly believe that there can exist any issue regarding which no Canadian would have anything to say? That no comment was received does not indicate that there were no concerns. It indicates that Canadian’s were unaware of the process and/or the avenue for making comment on it. If the intent to seek public input were sincere, there would have been undertaking to look at why no comment was received and fix that before proceeding.

Now we have the trade agreement made public September 26, 2012 and ratification made possible on November 2, 2012 by Order in Council. This does not allow adequate time for the public or their elected representatives to study this agreement.

The Environmental Assessment states “there can be no causal relationship found between the implementation of such a treaty and environmental impacts in Canada. It is for this reason that the claim made in the Initial EA, that no significant environmental impacts are expected based on the introduction of a Canada-China FIPA, is upheld.” This takes a far too narrow view of the issues. If trade under the agreement is found to be environmentally harmful, the foreign company involved may be protected by this agreement from any new laws or regulations that might deal with the harm. It is said that “the Parties retain the ability to regulate in the public interest”, but experience under NAFTA has shown that this is not always the case and if we find that this agreement is not allowing protection of the public interest we can be stuck with that situation for a minimum of 15 years based on the decisions of an arbitral panel that is unaccountable to Canadians.

The Canada-China FIPA may not cause environmental impacts, but it is likely to prevent us from responding to environmental impacts that occur in the course of investment that follows implementation of the agreement, and that is probably worse.

We have seen massive increases in Chinese investment in Canada (over 92% from 2008 to 2011). China wants our oil, our coal, our timber, our natural gas and no doubt our fresh water. It is impossible to extract and transport these resources without environmental impacts. These impacts can be severe, particularly when something goes wrong. Growing knowledge of the impacts of resource extraction and new threats that develop with new technologies will require us to act in the public interest and this trade agreement may tie our hands.

At the very least the agreement must not be ratified until there can be an adequate period of study and debate in the House of Commons followed by a free vote in the House on the issue. We should never enter into an agreement as far reaching as this one without the most thorough attention by all Parliamentarians.

Sincerely,
Ian Stephen

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