Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Why aren’t we debating the Canada-China investment pact?

By Lawrence Martin
In one week’s time, unless something strange happens, a far-reaching Canada-China investment agreement will take effect. It’s one of the most important commercial agreements Canada has signed since NAFTA. But whereas NAFTA could be terminated on six months’ notice, this deal locks in the signatories for a minimum of 15 years.

The problem is, few know much about the deal. It’s being rammed through the parliamentary system without scrutiny, foisted on the business community, the opposition parties and the country with hardly a word of debate or a vote. Our role is to accept it on faith – to take the government’s word for it.

In fact, while opponents are up in arms, this deal may be a good thing. Canada gets better access to the world’s emerging economic mega-power. Our investors there get rights and protections they didn’t have before. We’ve been trying to get a China investment deal since the mid-1990s.

But how are we to know if the pluses outweigh the negatives without public examination? This agreement didn’t even make it into one of those democracy-shredding omnibus bills the Conservatives have become so fond of.

The debate in this country has been dominated by the proposed Chinese takeover of Calgary’s Nexen Inc. to the extent that few commentators have paid much heed to the investment deal (though Postmedia’s Michael Den Tandt has called the pact’s secrecy mind-boggling). Nexen is important. But it’s a tree. The investment deal is the forest.

So far, all we’ve had is a brief appearance by some trade officials before a parliamentary committee. The government has blocked all other avenues of debate, save to say the opposition parties could devote an opposition day to it. While it’s true that investment agreements are typically of long duration and don’t require parliamentary approval, this is China, not Denmark.

Opponents say the agreement is lopsided in China’s favour. Opposition is being led by Osgoode Hall professor Gus Van Harten, who is one of our very few authorities on the complexities of investment treaties and who has written a 14-point letter to the Prime Minister detailing its failings. The Green Party’s Elizabeth May, a long-time trade policy watcher, has been leading the House of Commons charge along with NDP trade critic Don Davies, who says his leader’s office has received 15,000 e-mails questioning the agreement.

One of the protestations is that national treatment clauses heavily favour Beijing. The Chinese have far more domestic barriers and restraints to trade than does Canada. Investors in China are required in many instances to use local suppliers and labour. Not so investors in Canada.

Another major sore point is the dispute settlement process. Unlike most other investment pacts, this one allows for settlements behind closed doors. As incredible as it sounds, Prof. Van Harten says, Chinese asset owners in Canada “will be able, at their option, to challenge Canadian legislative, executive or judicial decisions outside of the Canadian legal system and Canadian courts.”

In that Chinese investment in Canada far outweighs Canadian investment in China, critics say there’s no reciprocity in this deal. Usually, the capital-importing position under such treaties is occupied by a developing or transition economy. In this case, the capital importer being Canada, there are many vulnerabilities.

McGill University’s Armand de Mestral, also a specialist in investment deals, isn’t as worked up about the pact as Prof. Van Harten. But Ottawa’s handling of it, he says, is unwarranted. Other governments report regularly to their parliaments on their investment deals. The Harper Conservatives promised to open up the process, he notes, but have failed to do so.

So, you ask, what else is new? Not much.


Dr Mike said...

It`s hard to tell here which country has the Communist gov`t , China or Canada.

The people in this country have lost all control , so much so , that the people in the PMO set the policy without any scrutiny by the people or their representatives.

The PMO just casually tosses us the centre digit & we take it.

It appears that our democracy is not quite as democratic as it used to be.

Dr Mike Popovich

Bruce Benson said...

The answer is "it's just not the Harper way" to allow any kind debate. Remember it's Harper that makes all of the rules. Oh ya, it's called a strong stable Conservative majority government. We do have a government that is as promised right? Open, honest and accountable if my memory serves me right.

JIC said...

No the Canada China Investment Pact is using the "Get Smart " code of silence technology !


Dr Mike said...


If Johnny Baird pulls off his shoe & starts talking into it , we are all in trouble

Dr Mike