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Manitoba Premier courts trade with China while critics decry dangers to sovereignty

Are the Provincial NDP in line with Harper?

by Alex Paterson

Centreport website
Centreport website

WINNIPEG - Despite fears and objections from experts and the federal opposition, the Manitoba NDP is moving towards integration with China - just like their federal Conservative counterparts.

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger wrapped up a 10-day trade mission in China Sept. 21, on the heels of a similar trip by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who signed a Foreign Investment Protection Agreement (FIPA) with the country earlier in the month.

“The provincial government sees expansion into the Chinese, and other Asian markets, as essential to the continuing growth of the economy in Manitoba,” said provincial spokesperson Matthew Williamson. “China is Manitoba’s second-largest trading partner.”

The province’s trajectory of trade with China stands to benefit megaprojects like CentrePort, which is deeply tied in with the federal strategy of developing the Asia-Pacific Gateway and multiple North American trade corridors.

CentrePort consists of multiple projects and agreements that will increase Winnipeg’s capacity for multimodal shipping. Construction continues on the $212-million CentrePort Canada Way, the largest capital highway project in Manitoba’s history that will create 3,200 employment years, according to CentrePort spokesperson Riva Harrison.

No matter the fate of any of these agreements, CentrePort’s mandate remains developing the 20,000 acres of land in west Winnipeg into two industrial parks and related multimodal shipping infrastructure, she said.

“Anything that increases potential trade with China is an opportunity we need to explore,” said Harrison.

The federal investment treaty with China, along with the developing Trans-Pacific Partnership, are agreements poised to facilitate export growth.

But critics are asking at what cost.

Gus van Harten, an expert on international public law from Osgoode Hall Law School at York University, identifies article 20 of the recent investment pact with China as mirroring the investor’s rights clauses found in the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The investment treaty allows investors to sue Canada outside of the Canadian courts when their assets are harmed by decisions made by entities in Canada.

The investment treaty allows investors to sue Canada outside of the Canadian courts when their assets are harmed by decisions made by entities in Canada. These suits are overseen by international arbitrators with no regulatory standards in international law. They also have no legal codes of conduct or an oversight body, said van Harten. 

The same treatment would be afforded to Canadian investors in China, the federal government says.

The Canada-China FIPA is a step towards providing better protection and security of Canadian investments in China through rules that protect against discriminatory and arbitrary practices, said Caitlin Workman, spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

“Our government is committed to creating the right conditions for Canadian businesses to compete internationally,” Workman said.

Thomas Mulcair, opposition leader of the federal NDP, said in a statement the deal “lacks the level of transparency and openness that Canadians deserve.”

“The Harper government has signed an agreement against the best interests of Canadians that exposes taxpayers to costly legal challenges via unaccountable tribunals that do not reflect acceptable standards of the rule of law,” Mulcair said.

“It does not guarantee Canadian investors the reciprocity with the rights that Chinese investors have secured.”

The federal NDP’s message is disputed by some progressive voices on the left. According to Harjap Grewal, Council of Canadians' British Columbia-Yukon regional organizer, Canada is not being sold out to Chinese state corporatism.

“The reality is that the Canadian state and corporations, as well as the Chinese state and its corporations, both benefit from this agreement,” said Grewal.

When asked if they support the FIPA with China, Williamson said in the event that any investor believes that they have not been fairly treated, the NDP recognizes the right of investors to pursue legal remedies.

The federal NDP, while opposing this agreement, have been unwilling to provide one of their opposition days to fully debate the issue in the House of Commons, said federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May, who has called for an emergency debate on the issue.

While acknowledging the crucial role trade with China plays in the development of the Manitoban economy John Gerrard, provincial Liberal Party leader, stated Manitobans need to be cautious.

“There is a danger in cozying up to China – we need to be able to make our own decisions. We have lots of resources and we need to look into the future,” he said.

Gerrard’s cautious approach is not unique among critics and experts.

Stuart Trew, Trade campaigner for the Council of Canadians insists Manitobans need to oppose this deal.

“These types of agreements socialize corporate risks on to the backs of average citizens,” he said.

“This agreement matches Harper’s vision of creating an energy superpower. It matches his global policy of supporting resource companies. He is looking for investments to dig up the tar sands,” states Trew.

Andrew Nikiforuk, a journalist and activist campaigning against the tar sands, sees this deal as another example of how there’s no room for debate for the future of our country in relation to energy.

“Fossil fuels are a way for governments to be lazy and uninventive. Canada is being divided in provinces which can produce hydrocarbons and those which cannot,” he said.

This problem stems from our current political and economic culture, says Greg Albo, an expert in political economy at York University.

“Canada has become one of the most ideologically neoliberal countries on the planet. NAFTA has locked us into this scheme and only a massive uprising will get us out of it,” said Albo.

Conservative MPs Joyce Bateman and Shelly Glover were not available for comment by press time.

(A shorter version of this article originally appeared in the Uniter )

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Alex Paterson (Alex Paterson)
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