IN THE HOUSE ~ Petition targets ‘secretive’ Canada-China trade deal

OTTAWA — A petition signed by 60,000 Canadians calls on Prime Minister  Stephen Harper to reject a “secretive and sweepingâ€� Canada-China trade  agreement.

The Foreign Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement (FIPA), discussed  mostly behind closed doors, comes as the Conservative cabinet reviews a Chinese  state-owned oil company’s $15.1-billion bid to take over Calgary oil company  Nexen.

Members of three opposition parties met with the members of two advocacy  groups, and, that launched the petition two weeks ago  over concerns that the deal would allow China to sue the Canadian government in  secret tribunals, leading to a loss of control over natural resources.

The Liberal, NDP and Green Party denounced the lack of debate and vote over  the agreement during a press conference on Parliament Hill Tuesday morning.

The agreement was tabled on Sept. 26 and can become law through cabinet order  after 21 sitting days, which means the government could theoretically move to  ratify as early as Nov. 1. A spokesman for Minister of International Trade Ed  Fast said there is no date currently set for a cabinet meeting at which the  agreement could be ratified.

NDP MP Peter Julian said that “normal democratic processâ€� has been refused  over and over by the Harper government.

“Don Davies, our trade critic, has brought forward at the committee level and  also in Parliament, the call for debate, the call for witnesses, the call for  due consideration of the FIPA with Canada and China and the government has  refused systematically that type of democratic consideration,â€� he said.

Liberal MP Geoff Regan echoed the call for an open process before the  ratification of the agreement that will have a lifespan of 31 years with no exit  clause for the first 15 years.

“The Liberal Party favours trade and investment with other countries; however  we believe we have to have discussion,â€� Regan said. “What we essentially have  here is King Stephen has used the royal prerogative to ram this through  — and  we’re very concerned.â€�

During question period on Tuesday, International Trade Minister Ed Fast said  the opposition already had an opportunity to debate the agreement but “passed it  up.â€� He said the agreement will give “confidenceâ€� to Canadians who invest in  China and lead to job growth in Canada.

“This agreement represents a very significant step forward to protecting  Canadians when they invest in China,â€� he said.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May said “there’s no question that Canadian  investors in China will be better off with this deal,â€� but argued the benefits  would not offset the risks.

Foreign Affairs department data shows that the relationship between Canada  and China is lopsided. While Canadian firms exported $16.8-billion worth of  goods and services to China in 2011, Chinese exports to Canada were triple that  amount. Similarly, Canadian direct investment in China was worth about $4.5  billion in 2011 while Chinese investment in Canada was $10.9 billion.

Matthew Carroll, the campaign director for, said the secrecy in  the process is just part of the concern. The agreement also allows the  government to keep lawsuits and settlements private — which is not the case with  the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“If a Canadian government is sued under NAFTA, that becomes public  information. But it’s entirely up to the discretion of our government whether or  not they make the information under this FIPA public,â€� he said.

May added that while Canada deals with the private sector in U.S. under  NAFTA, Canada will be dealing with state-owned companies under the FIPA with  China, meaning diplomacy becomes a factor.

“It brings in geopolitical concerns. It brings in the economic clout of that  government to say, ‘All our investors in Canada might be very annoyed if you  don’t change that law. All our investors in Canada might have to leave  suddenly,’â€� she said. “You’re dealing with an intimidation and political power  pressure that simply isn’t present in NAFTA.â€�

The agreement would give opposing parties a six-month diplomatic period  before a legal matter would go before a tribunal, she said.


with files from Michael Den Tandt

[email protected]

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa  Citizen

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