from the municipalities-fight-back dept
Though the specific process differs from country to country, international agreements are generally negotiated and signed at the highest levels of government, with input from everyone else filtering up (in theory) through the hierarchy—at least until you get something like ACTA, where the public rises up en masse and essentially overrides the whole system. One thing that you don't often see is municipal governments standing up to take a direct role in international negotiations—but that's exactly what's happening now in Canada, where cities are seeking to avoid an ACTA-like situation by asking to opt out of the Canada-EU Trade Agreement (CETA) at the municipal level.
The effort is being led by The Council of Canadians, a social justice group which is working to persuade cities, towns, and municipal authorities all over Canada to request exemption from CETA. Their core concern is about the agreement's procurement chapter, which sets down rules about how governments and other public bodies can spend money on goods and services, and which they fear will unduly restrict municipalities:
For example, new rules in CETA on how public bodies spend money would:
- Prohibit municipalities from putting buy local or buy Canadian preferences on contracts, or requiring that bidders use some portion of local or Canadian goods, services or labour. This would end the ability of municipalities to use procurement as a local economic or social development tool.
- Prohibit municipalities from using public spending to create or support a market for innovative goods and services, including green technologies, if the effect would favour Canadian producers or attract investment to Canada.
- Prohibit municipalities from spending public money in ways that support sustainability, for example through buy local food policies like the one Toronto passed to reduce emissions from food miles.
As long as municipal governments are part of the CETA deal, these prohibitions will apply to local purchases. We need to make sure cities, towns, school boards and hospitals are not bound by these unnecessary rules.
So far, over 30 local governments representing over 5.5 million people have joined the exemption campaign and another 30 to 40 municipal councils, school boards or associations have asked for more information and more input in the negotiations. Unfortunately, as is common with these situations, such concerns have been largely brushed off in a weak damage control effort by the federal government. Assurances from the Candian Foreign Affairs and International Trade Ministry on the Myths and Realities page are reminiscent of the EU's ACTA Facts, and the Council of Canadians have a page that debunks them. International trade strategist Peter Clark laughs off the fears Canadians have of corporate control of their water services.
CETA is not about diverting Canada’s lakes and rivers – which would not do Europeans much good in any event because we have no common borders... There is no requirement to privatize services which do not compete with private entities and do not operate on a commercial basis.
There are good reasons for the municipalities' concern about the investors' clauses, but Clark just tells them not to worry their pretty little heads about it and run along. Stonewalling and secrecy are not the way to build confidence in the benefits of CETA.