By Erika Del Carmen Fuchs - Monday Feb 27, Toronto.
What does the erosion of democracy look like, and what can we do to stop it? On Thursday evening, three panelists talked about how free trade agreements negatively impact countries’ and citizen’s power, but also how countries and citizens are stopping this corporate power grab.
Stuart Trew of Common Frontiers and Council of Canadians spoke of the power that the investor state dispute resolution clauses in trade treaties gives companies to sue countries. “It is a sadistic process,” Trew stated.
He goes as far as to say that currently Canada’s role is “masochistic” as it continues to negotiate free trade agreements with other countries, as a tool for companies to bypass the courts, without yielding significant economic benefits or foreign investment in Canada.
The CETA-Canada European Union Trade Agreement is one such agreement being negotiated virtually in secret. The European Commission in a study it published explains how it does not stand to benefit Canada, and basically recommends that that it not enter into it.
Others might not see Canada in the light of a victim or a masochist. Communities in countries like Honduras and El Salvador see the“sadist” side of Canadian mining and banking institutions wreaking havoc by accessing the investor state dispute tribunals to chip away at local and national sovereignty.
York University Professor Anna Zalik highlighted the “culture of impunity” that exists when trade agreements contribute to the “erosion of indigenous and labour rights.” One tactic used by corporations in Mexico and Nigeria has been the funding of NGOs in order to “buy” the consent of communities where extractive industries have projects.
Manuel Perez Rocha, guest speaker from the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, highlighted IPS report, Mining for Profits in International Tribunals, that provides details of how investment state lawsuits are being taken to less transparent tribunals internationally, like the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). Referring to the destruction and death caused by increasing corporate power in the face of rising commodity prices, he said, “They [the corporations] are buying gold with blood.”
“It is necessary to take action to challenge this,” Perez Rocha implores. All of the speakers drew attention to how countries and citizens are taking back the power that has been ceded in what to date are over 2500 FTAs (Free Trade Agreements). Australia, Korea, Argentina, and India are all taking steps to regain sovereignty in the face of these treaties, by saying no to investor state clauses or no to paying fines imposed by the trade tribunals.
The result of civil society efforts against the Colombia-Canada FTA resulted in a human rights impact assessment having to be included and being performed yearly in collaboration with indigenous communities.
These are concrete steps to regain democracy and challenge the impunity that to date has been inherent in the corporate power that FTAs favour.
The event drew to a close the Latin American and Caribbean Solidarity Network month of events. This very successful initiative drew over 1,500 people to various events and saw the collaboration of community based groups with progressive national NGO’s during the month of solidarity. The activities were aimed at engaging the Canadian public on issues that link local and international issues and strengthens solidarity between North and South; share Latin American & Caribbean experiences on struggles around austerity, privatization and corporate dominance and link them to local struggles; Demand that the Canadian government cease trade and investment practices that erode democratic rights, self-determination and sovereignty of communities and nations in the region and finally highlight and expose corporations that violate human rights and foster a climate of fear and militarization in communities affected by Canadian investment projects.