Chinese companies can sue BC for changing course on Northern Gateway, says policy expert
The Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Act (FIPPA), which will come into effect at the end of October, is Canada's biggest foreign trade treaty since NAFTA. What are its implications for BC?
Liberal MP and Committee on International Trade co-chair Wayne Easter, who has been a Member of Parliament representing Prince Edward Island since 1993, recalled the case of Ethyl Corporation vs. the Government of Canada in 1997. The Canadian government paid the Corporation $13 million after its ban on the import and interprovincial trade of the gasoline additive MMT— a suspected neurotoxin— was found to violate the investor corporation's rights under NAFTA.
"Even though we were doing it for an environmental reason, under the investment rules it affected their future profit, and so the Government of Canada had to cut a check to Ethyl," Easter said.
"And that's what can happen when a government makes a decision in the public interest that affects a company's future profits of something they're selling into the marketplace. It really takes your ability of public policy out of public interest hands, being the government, and puts into private investor hands."
Harper government muffling debate: opposition MPs
The majority Harper government is continuing a trend of muffling democratic debate in the House of Commons by ignoring calls to study, debate and clarify a major foreign investment agreement between Canada and China, say opposition MPs.
"There is no mechanism that the Conservatives have permitted in this case to allow stakeholder input and full discussion about FIPPA," said International Trade critic for the official opposition Don Davies.
Davies proposed a motion on October 2 in the Standing Committee for International Trade to gather expert opinions, clarify ambiguities, and debate contentious clauses in the wide-ranging agreement.
After the majority Conservative committee voted for a confidential, in-camera meeting, the motion was removed from the Committee's agenda.
Easter said that this was "typical" for the Conservatives when they don't want to engage in a critical debate.
"The problem is with this particular government is they typically go in-camera to defeat a motion," he said.
"We should be doing what Parliament is supposed to do and hold a consultation so that we know just exactly what is happening under the investment agreement, and so that we can look at the implications."
One of the implications that Easter says he worries about is the investor-state arbitration clause, a controversial clause (Article 28) in the FIPPA that allows for a three-person tribunal to judge cases of investor-host country disputes in confidential hearings.
Policy watchers and opposition MPs have raised alarms about this clause, raising examples in the past where multinational corporate investors sued the government of Canada in secretive tribunals ratified under NAFTA.
Harper government's consultation with House "unprecedented": Minister of International Trade spokesperson
Scott Sinclair, a senior researcher and director of the Trade and Investment Research Project at the Centre for Policy Alternatives, said that the federal government should be consulting provinces and territories about such a wide-ranging agreement.
"There isn't nearly enough consultation, and the intenton of Parliament to not even going to have a vote raises some very important issues about right to regulate and the rule of law," he told The Vancouver Observer.