As early as Friday (November 2), the federal government may ratify an investment treaty with China amid an atmosphere of rising anxiety over the growing power of the Asian economic giant.
Canada has foreign investment promotion and protection agreements (FIPAs) in force with 24 countries. It has concluded negotiations with China and seven others, and is continuing to negotiate with 12 more nations. But it’s the pact with China that’s caused a stir on Parliament Hill and elsewhere.
Speaking as the Opposition critic for international trade, Vancouver Kingsway NDP MP Don Davies referenced the North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, the U.S., and Mexico to underscore the magnitude of the China deal.
“This is the first time that we’ve signed a FIPA, I would say, since NAFTA with an economy of this size,” Davies told the Straight in a phone interview. “China is the second-largest economy in the world.”
With Chinese state corporations pursuing an aggressive investment strategy in Canada’s energy sector, particularly in the Alberta oil patch, there are mounting concerns that the deal could enable the building and expansion of oil and gas pipelines in B.C. geared towards Asian markets and away from the U.S. That’s because it contains provisions much like those in Chapter 11 of NAFTA that allow foreign corporations to sue host governments and claim monetary damages.
“The overall effect will be that before we pass laws, you’ll find governments—municipally, provincially, and federally—looking over their shoulders,” lone Green MP Elizabeth May told the Straight by phone.
For Maude Barlow, national chair of the Council of Canadians, FIPAs are the offspring of NAFTA’s Chapter 11. “This is an extension, from our perspective, of our concerns over the foreign investment protection agreements in general, because they give corporations the right to sue governments, and they lock in the current standards of environment or health or safety protections,” Barlow told the Straight in a phone interview.
In Vancouver, the agreement has fired up local environmental activists including those who picketed the constituency office of B.C. premier Christy Clark on October 30. A. J. Klein and her fellow protesters want Clark to seek a court injunction to stop the China accord.
“It’s an expansion of corporate power, along with natural-resource extraction,” Klein told the Straight by phone.
Paul Evans, a professor at UBC’s Institute of Asian Research, noted that the unease over the agreement can partly be attributed to the nature of China’s economy, where state-owned enterprises are major players, which is different from that of western capitalist countries.
“That’s their form of capitalism,” Evans stressed in a phone interview with the Straight.
The UBC academic also emphasized that the deal is a reflection of new-world realities. “The United States remains our principal investment and trading partner, but in looking into the future, diversification is not an option but a necessity,” Evans said. “And that’s really changed the game.”
Opposition parties in the House of Commons have demanded further study but to no avail. On October 30, advocacy groups Leadnow and SumOfUs delivered a petition with 60,000 signatures opposing the deal to Parliament Hill.
Minister of International Trade Ed Fast didn’t grant the Straight an interview before deadline.