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Thu, 2012-12-13 11:05Carol Linnitt
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Van Harten: Canada "Recklessly" Entering Trans-Pacific Partnership, FIPA

Last week Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada announced Canada had “officially joined the latest round of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade negotiations” after more than two and a half years of talks by previously engaged nations. The 15th round of talks, involving Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the U.S. and Vietnam, wrapped up yesterday in Auckland. 

The TPP has already been the cause of significant concern in the U.S. where citizen groups and elected leaders have argued the agreement is shrouded in secrecy, leaving the American public to speculate about its consequences. This summer, after members of Congress complained corporate access to the trade documents superseded their own, leaked portions of the agreement began to circulate online. 
 
At the time Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, said, “the outrageous stuff in this leaked text may well be why U.S. trade officials have been so extremely secretive about these past two years of [trade] negotiations.”
 
During those two years, while Canada was vying for a seat at the TPP table, America made arguments that seemed to anticipate the furor Canadians would soon feel after the announcement of the Canada-China Foreign Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement, or FIPA
 
Much like FIPA, the TPP grants unprecedented power to corporate entities with access to international tribunals that have the authority to overrule Canadian decisions regarding domestic policies that may apply to environmental regulation or reform, finance and labour policies and First Nations rights.
 
International investment lawyer and trade agreement expert, Gus Van Harten told DeSmog that Canada is currently on track to become “the most locked in developed country in the world in investor-state arbitration.” He added, Canada is “proceeding recklessly” into this enfeebling agreement which will give “almost all foreign corporations in the country exceptional leverage to pressure governments behind closed doors.”
 
The Harper government is selling out Canada's long term sovereignty and prosperity in what appears as a thoughtless gamble, without so much as a financial risk assessment. As Van Harten puts it below, “We do not intend to slip on the sidewalk in winter, but we still check for ice.”
 
I asked Professor Van Harten 5 questions about the TPP and its relation to the politically-contentious FIPA
Thu, 2012-10-18 10:34Carol Linnitt
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China-Canada Investment "Straitjacket:" Interview with Gus Van Harten Part 2

This post is second in a series on the Canada-China Investment “Straitjacket:” Exclusive Interview with Gus Van Harten. You can read Part 1 here and Part 3 here.

Right now Canadians stare down the barrel of a 31-year long legal trade agreement with the Chinese government that did not become public knowledge until September 26, 2012.

The trade treaty, known as the Foreign Investment Protection Agreement or FIPA, has garnered notable opposition in the past three weeks, with NDP trade critic Don Davies calling for public hearings, Green Party MP Elizabeth May calling for an emergency Parliamentary debate, and campaign organizations Leadnow.ca and SumofUs.org gathering over 39,300 opposition signatures (and counting) to deliver in person to Ottawa.

Yesterday, the Canadian Press reported the Harper government's refusal to host public hearings. Elizabeth May's October 1 request was also denied on the grounds that FIPA does not meet the test of emergency.

The trade agreement, or treaty, as it is called, is slated for ratification at the end of this month. The Commons trade committee will be briefed on the document in a one hour hearing.

With a trade deal that threatens Canadian sovereignty looming on the horizon and a government committed to expediting its approval, DeSmog caught up with trade investment lawyer and Osgoode professor Gus Van Harten to talk through some of the details.

Wed, 2012-10-17 14:23Carol Linnitt
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China Investment Treaty "a Straitjacket" for Canada: Exclusive Interview with Trade Investment Expert Gus Van Harten

This post is the first of a series on the Canada-China Investment “Straitjacket:” Exclusive Interview with Gus Van Harten. You can access Part 2 here and Part 3 here.

I recently picked up a copy of Francis Fukuyama's 2011 book, The Origins of Political Order. Sitting on the bedside table at the house I was staying at, the book made for some 'light' bedtime reading. I heaved the enormous tome onto my lap and, opening it to a random page, read this alarming passage: 

There is no rule of law in China today: the Chinese Communist Party does not accept the authority of any other institution in China as superior to it or able to overturn its decisions. Although the People's Republic of China has a constitution, the party makes the constitution rather than the reverse. If the current Chinese government wanted to nationalize all existing foreign investments, or renationalize the holdings of private individuals and return the country to Maoism, there is no legal framework preventing it from doing so (Pg 248)

My concerns with China's treatment of foreign investments arose in light of China's recent bid for Nexen, a Canadian company with large holdings in the Alberta tar sands. Since Canada is having trouble with the management of the tar sands now, what would it look like if we had Chinese state-owned enterprises like the Chinese National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) in the mix?

It turns out the problem is of magnitudes greater than I had originally conceived, and concerns not only Canada's management of its resources, but its sovereignty, its democracy, and the protection of the rights and values of its citizens.

Perhaps most strikingly, Canada is embracing this threat, showing telltale signs the real culprit in this dangerous deal isn't China at all.

In order to untangle the web of an international trade deal as complex as the China-Canada Investment Treaty, which establishes the terms of the Nexen deal - the biggest overseas takeover by a Chinese company -  I spoke with Professor Gus Van Harten of Osgoode Law School, an expert on foreign investment deals of this sort.

Below is Part 1 of our interview:

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