Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal: the issues, the method, the opposition

Indepth report by Renewal Update, May 25, 2016

Demonstrations at hearings oppose the deal

The people’s opposition is deepening the legitimacy crisis of the institutions which advocate the neo-liberal agenda and the parties which champion it. Their attempt to use public consultations to give legitimacy to a neo-liberal free trade deal that has already been negotiated and signed behind the backs of Canadians is seriously at risk. In every city where the government’s consultations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) have been held, Canadians inside and outside pointed out that far from upholding trade on the basis of mutual benefit, the TPP puts trade further under the domination of global monopolies in pursuit of their own private interests. It is a nation-wrecking agreement that attacks the right of Canadians to sovereign decision-making power.

As part of opposing the TPP demonstrators questioned the premises of the consultations, pointing out that the government already signed the TPP as of February 4. The government has expressed on many occasions its support for the agreement along with platitudes from International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland such as “Canada is a trading nation,” the same excuse used by the previous government when it had to justify anti-social measures. At the same time, she says consultation and debate in Parliament is needed before a “final decision” is made. One of the witnesses at the Richmond, BC meeting on April 18, Brenda Sayers of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs pointed out that a single pipeline project or dam is subject to a much more thorough environmental impact assessment than the TPP, with many more witnesses called.

Canadians have many questions about these consultations and others the government has launched and likes to speak about. How does the government set the framework for how Canadians are consulted, what they are asked and what kind of feedback they can provide? Who is invited to participate and to what extent? More importantly, what is the relationship between the information received by the government and the decisions it makes? Is it arbitrary and serving an agenda already decided from outside the people or is there a principle involved?

Are the TPP consultations set up for the purpose of translating the public will of Canadians into the legal will of the government or for government to claim legitimacy for its actions? What will become of the e-mails sent by Canadians, 15,000 of which have reportedly been received so far, and will the government dismiss their serious concerns? A concern is that these hearings, which The Hill Times characterized as “mostly comprised of industry and non-profit groups familiar to the committee members and with ties to national lobby groups in Ottawa,” will be used by the government to claim that “most” or even “the vast majority” of those consulted favour the agreement and that is that.

The hearings are not over, and more are expected to be held in Atlantic Canada over the next month.Renewal Update salutes the efforts of working people to not permit the government to claim legitimacy for decisions which go against their interests. By making clear that they oppose the TPP outside and, whenever possible expressing their opposition inside the hearings, they stand up for their right to decide and say No! to neo-liberal trade agreements which uphold monopoly right and negate public right.

Richmond, British Columbia, April 18

Calgary, Alberta, April 19

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, April 20

Winnipeg, Manitoba, April 21

Montreal, Quebec, May 10

Protestors in Montreal said that the Committee’s claim of wanting to hear people’s point of view on the TPP rang hollow. They pointed out that the consultations have been sporadic and stage-managed affairs with many of those applying to participate being rejected, never mind that the entire agreement was negotiated in secret. Canadians and Quebeckers are already familiar with such neo-liberal free trade accords that are imposed in service of the monopolies and wreck the economy and impoverish the people, the demonstration pointed out.

Windsor, Ontario, May 12

Many active and retired autoworkers were in attendance outside the hearing with placards opposing the TPP and the destruction of manufacturing. They were joined by city workers, teachers and education workers, professors and postal workers, as well as a contingent from the Marxist-Leninist Party, among others. After speaking inside the hearing, representatives of the Windsor and District Labour Council, the Council of Canadians and Unifor addressed the crowd, summarizing their submissions and emphasizing the point that the experience of the people of Windsor-Essex with free trade is what has led them to say No! to Canada signing the TPP.

Toronto, Ontario May 13

Protestors outside the Toronto hearing included members of unions such as Unifor, the United Food Commercial Workers and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association as well as the Council of Canadians, Open Media, Lead Now and many concerned citizens as well as members of the Marxist-Leninist Party. More than one speaker noted that the manner in which the TPP was signed in secret and with the Liberals doing everything to withhold information from the public is in contempt of democracy and any level of accountability to the public. Some of the speakers emphasized that the Liberals had no mandate to harness Canada’s human, natural resources and public assets to the TPP. On the contrary, they were elected to protect Canadians and the public interest.

(Photos: Renewal Update, Council of Canadians, Leadnow)

About the consultations

The hearings on the Trans-Pacific Partnership are being held by the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade, which previously held “pre-study” meetings in February and March in Ottawa.[1] These consultations are separate from consultations “with stakeholders” held by the government through the office of the Minister of International Trade.

Additional hearings in Ottawa are scheduled to take place, and the Committee is now requesting permission from the House of Commons to carry out hearings in Atlantic Canada over the coming months. The hearings across the country were described as consultations and each lasted around four hours and heard from, on average, 12 presenters. They are divided into four panels of three witnesses lasting an hour each. After protestors at each hearing demanded the right to speak, the Committee added a one-hour section per hearing in which members of the public can also sign up on a first-come, first-served basis following witness testimony. Written submissions of up to 1,500 words will be accepted by the Committee until June 30.

Anyone can request to speak to the Committee, which then decides who to invite from amongst those who apply. In practice Committee members also request selected people, mostly representing organizations, to speak to the hearings. Those who are invited to speak (witnesses) present to the Committee for five minutes on what is normally a one-hour panel usually consisting of two other witnesses. After hearing their remarks, Committee members have two rounds of “questions” or remarks allocated along party lines.

In the final hour of the consultations, members of the audience (all of whom must present photo ID and go through airport-type security screening to enter the meeting room) are able to address the Committee. Time allocated to audience members is not pre-set and is instead based on the number who request to speak and the time is allotted by the Chair. Audience members have to sign up at least 45 minutes before the audience session. Committee members do not make any remarks and are not to ask questions; they are only to listen to audience speakers. According to the Committee Chair this is so the Committee can hear from the people.

Note

1. The House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade has the following members:

Liberal: Mark Eyking (Sydney-Victoria, Chair) Sukh Dhaliwal (Surrey-Newton) Peter Fonseca (Mississauga East-Cooksville) Linda Lapointe (Rivière-des-Mille-Îles) Karen Ludwig (New Brunswick Southwest) Kyle Peterson (New Market-Aurora)

Conservative: Randy Hoback (Prince Albert, Vice-Chair) Gerry Ritz (Battlefords-Lloydminster) Dave Van Kesteren (Chatham-Kent-Leamington)

NDP: Tracey Ramsey (Essex, Vice-Chair)

How the hearings are conducted

Members of the Marxist-Leninist Party Club in Windsor attended the hearing in that city on May 12 and presented the Party’s position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to Committee members. They provide the following report about how the hearings are conducted:

The hearing in Windsor was organized into four hour-long panels. The panels appeared to be organized in such a way that at least one group on each was in favour of the TPP and one against, rather than have panels organized by what sector of the economy or class interests the witnesses represent.[1]

For example, representatives of unionized workers were split between panel one (auto workers represented by Unifor and the Windsor and District Labour Council) and panel four (steelworkers). Those representing agriculture and agribusiness were assigned to three of the four panels. Others representing big and small business interests such as the Chamber of Commerce and the Windsor-Essex Economic Development Corporation were split between two different panels.

In this way the panels are organized to present the attack on Canadians’ sovereign decision-making power over the economy and its direction in the TPP as a matter of “supporters” and “detractors.” One Liberal committee member referred to this as “two irreconcilable extremes.” The Liberals presented themselves as “balancing” the two.

The line of questioning by Committee members was consistent through much of the hearing.

Those in favour of the deal (Liberals and Conservatives) generally posed questions in a way to suggest that the TPP is good for some and elicit responses to confirm this. They suggested that it is good for certain sections of agricultural producers and for some small parts manufacturers and that this balanced out negative consequences such as job losses and the closure of companies in the auto parts sector. Those on the Committee opposed (NDP) generally asked questions to bring out the negative aspects of the TPP to show that its harmful consequences outweigh any gains that might come.

In other words, different sectors of the economy and those who rely on them were pitted against each other along with firms or workers within a sector on the basis of who would allegedly “gain” and who would “lose.” This was not helpful as it diverted from looking at the issue of the TPP and neo-liberal free trade in the context of the need for a diverse, interrelated economy that can provide for the well-being of Canadians and is under their control.

The approach of some Committee members to questioning witnesses was also not helpful. During the first panel, instead of asking questions to further elucidate the points made by witnesses, Liberal and Conservative members raised doubts about what they said. This was particularly the case when it came to witnesses representing workers, and in some cases they tried to raise doubts about the witnesses themselves.

For example, the interventions by two representatives of the Windsor and District Labour Council raised the real experiences of the working class with neo-liberal free trade. They gave vivid examples of the destruction of manufacturing that has taken place and is taking place as a result of such agreements and the nation-wrecking of global monopolies. Labour Council President Brian Hogan concluded his remarks by pointing out that workers are not against trade, but are against the sell-out of their country so some companies can make a quick buck.

No questions or comments came in response to the examples Hogan raised. Instead one Committee member asked who the Labour Council represented and if it might have any members who look at the TPP “differently.” This was to insinuate that the examples raised about the real damage done by free trade are irrelevant and that the issue is whether or not there are some unions represented by the Labour Council that support the TPP.

In another case, a staff representative of the United Steelworkers (USW) spoke about his union’s opposition to the TPP based on its experience with how steel production in Canada has been decimated as a result of various free trade deals. He expressed the union’s concerns over investor-state dispute settlement measures that permit foreign companies to sue governments.

A Liberal committee member asked if the USW had “consulted its membership” on the TPP specifically and if it could provide “evidence” to back up its opposition. This was another effort to suggest that organizations of workers do not represent their members when they oppose neo-liberal free trade deals. The irony that these MPs themselves have not consulted their constituents on the TPP and its significance or made any effort to find out their level of support must have been lost on the MP in question but was not lost on the working people attending the hearing.

In other exchanges Committee members used the time they are allotted to ask questions to give their own opinions, ask leading questions or challenge witnesses rather than permit the speakers to explain their views. One Conservative MP attempted to put words into a witness’ mouth, telling a dairy farmer that “dairy farmers support the [TPP] contingent upon compensation.” The dairy farmer refused to be tricked and clarified that, if the deal was ratified and this led to problems for producers, then they would seek compensation. The Conservative MP tried to twist this again, saying, “So you basically want compensation.”

The final hour of the hearing was set aside for members of the public to give their views, during which the Committee members are not allowed to question speakers. Members of the public were not invited to sit at the table where witnesses presented but stood at a microphone and spoke from the floor.

Everyone who came forward to speak denounced the TPP. In particular, they denounced the Liberals for campaigning on the pretense of being different from the Harper government and promising “real change” only to carry on with a nefarious deal negotiated behind the backs of Canadians and against their interests. The Committee members sat and listened, but it was clear that such interventions made many of them uncomfortable. However there was no space for them to respond or to have to render account.

Note

1. Witnesses appearing in Windsor on May 12:

Panel 1
Unifor — Dino Chiodo, President, Local 444
Windsor and District Labour Council — Brian Hogan, President; Randy Emerson, Treasurer of the Council of Canadians
Essex County Federation of Agriculture — Louis Roesch, Director of Zone One, Kent and Essex Counties,
Ontario Federation of Agriculture — Ron Faubert, Representative

Panel 2
Cross-Border Institute — William Anderson, Director, University of Windsor
Linamar Corporation — Linda Hasenfratz, Chief Executive Officer
Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce — Matt Marchand, President and Chief Executive Officer

Panel 3
Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers — George Gilvesy, Chair; Glen Snoek, Analyst, Market and Economic Policy
Lambton Federation of Agriculture — Kevin Forbes, Member and Past President; Gary Martin, Director
Windsor Essex Economic Development Corporation — Rakesh Naidu, Interim Chief Executive Officer

Panel 4
Grain Farmers of Ontario — Mark Huston, Vice-Chair
Ontario Health Coalition — Natalie Mehra, Executive Director
United Steelworkers — Troy Lundblad, Staff Representative, Research, Public Policy and Bargaining Support

Position of the Marxist-Leninist Party

The Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada (MLPC) calls on Canadians to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and all other free trade agreements. These neo-liberal agreements are nation-wrecking. They point to the need for a new direction for the economy within a nation-building project under the control of the people of Canada, not the global monopolies. Free trade agreements during this period when global monopolies dominate the economies of most countries can only be seen as serving class privilege and narrow private interests. The downturn in manufacturing in Canada during the last two decades, especially in Ontario, Quebec and BC can in part be traced back to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) adopted in 1992.

Free trade agreements introduce the competition, power and control of the global monopolies as the dominant element in both international and domestic trade. This stands in opposition to trade and the movement of social wealth based on mutual benefit and development, and friendship amongst peoples to serve their well-being and security.

The loss of sovereign decision-making because of free trade agreements, specifically the public’s right to restrict monopoly right, is a consideration in opposing free trade agreements. A modern nation-building project must have a public authority accountable to the people who must control trade and the movement of social wealth into and out of the country. Unless restricted, the owners of great social wealth will continue to control how the natural resources and production of any country are used, to benefit their private interests.

When assessing the TPP, several specific issues also bear consideration. This U.S.-led initiative for a free trade agreement in the Asia Pacific region excludes China. Several trade organizations and bilateral and multilateral economic partnerships or agreements already exist in northeast and southeast Asia such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The TPP seeks to introduce the monopolies of the U.S. and its military ally Japan into the legal mix as dominant participants whose private interests would be considered in most existing economic relationships. This stands in opposition to the peoples of Asia and their independent efforts to move forward from the colonial era.

The TPP comes within the context of the U.S. military pivot to Asia, specifically to East Asia and Southeast Asia where the U.S. plans to base 60 per cent of its overseas military forces. The pivot is well underway with construction of new and expanded U.S. military bases in Japan and south Korea and introduction of the latest weaponry such as the Osprey, F-22 and F-35 aircraft. War preparations are intrinsically linked with economic considerations and the penetration of regions to control trade, labour, natural resources and political affairs.

Rejection of the TPP is linked to opposition to Canada’s participation in U.S.-led predatory wars, and the need for an anti-war government to extricate the country from the aggressive U.S.-led NATO and the U.S.-dominated Fortress North America.

The TPP in the immediate term would destroy Canada’s supply management regime presently in place for most dairy products. This would be a coup de grâce for Canada’s dairy producers, as monopoly-controlled dairy production in the U.S. and New Zealand would soon wipe out Canada’s smaller producers.

The key issue in the TPP and other free trade agreements is control over the country’s economy within a nation-building project. Through free trade agreements, the global monopolies legally gain direct control over key aspects of the economy and deprive the people of their right to exercise control over those affairs that affect their lives. This lack of control by the people runs counter to the modern trend towards democracy where the people through democratic renewal struggle to gain the legal will to exercise control over the economic, political and social affairs that affect their lives.

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