Economist and activists warn about the agreement’s ramifications
The Canadian government has confirmed that it will sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, reports the CBC. But Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, in an open letter to concerned Canadians, underlined that “signing does not equal ratifying” and that “only a majority vote in our Parliament can allow the agreement to take force.”
The partnership is a complex web of trade deals between 12 Pacific-coast countries, including Canada, the United States, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore. According to the Government of Canada, the combined markets represent over 800 million people and $28.5 trillion in GDP. All countries involved have two years to properly ratify the agreement before the TPP comes into effect.
But not everyone is ready for the brave new world of free trade: Harold Chorney, a professor in Concordia University’s political science department and political economist, warns students that the agreement could risk their jobs post-education—if only they knew what it entailed.
“The problem with the TPP… is that it was negotiated in secret, behind closed doors,” said Chorney. “Young people in particular want to make sure they have jobs in the future, and that trade pacts increase job opportunities rather than decrease them. And these are not easy questions to figure out.”
He believes that Canadian youth will understand what is at risk with the TPP. “Students all too well know, unfortunately, the experience of working in low-wage jobs where they appear to be fun for a while but then become dead-end jobs,” said Chorney. “And they want to make sure, and I want to make sure… that they’re going to have jobs and opportunities in the years to come, in the decades to come.”
But Chorney warns that not all trade agreements can lead to those opportunities. “Sometimes you lose jobs, because the sectors that you’ve got—that you specialize in—are hurt by opening up the international economy to freer flows of trade,” said Chorney. “[Industries] are not totally mobile. Not everybody can relocate to Japan, or even wants to—or to China, or from there to here. It’s not that simple.”
He believes that the first step for Canada is a high-tech and diversified economy that isn’t depending on raw material export. “That’s the name of the game these days,” he said, while also noting that Canada needs to protect its social framework and health care.
Economists are not the only ones weighing in on the TPP debate. Claude Vaillancourt, president of Quebec chapter of the Association for the Taxation of financial Transactions and Aid to Citizens (ATTAC Québec), warns that the agreement could be worse than people expect, especially in the realms of intellectual rights and education.
“In every country they have their own system of education, and it’s very protected,” explained Vaillancourt. “And you can understand why—it’s our vision, our values … they want to take out all the obstacles that prevent [for-profit and online universities] from exporting courses and education [to other countries].”
Vaillancourt also warns that TPP would give international corporations the ability to sue governments and affect their policies. “It’s a tool for lobbying,” said Vaillancourt, who claims that Canada has already been sued many times under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). “Let’s say the government wants to pass a new law. You don’t like this law. It will cost you money. So you send your lobbyer to the government and say ‘We are going to sue you.’ It’s very efficient.”
Negotiations for the TPP began in September 2008, when the United States engaged in trade talks with the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore). Canada became an observer at the talks in 2010, and officially joined in the discussions in 2012, alongside Mexico.