Appeared in the Toronto Star on May 4, 2013 as Canada's Two-Tier Approach to Trade Talks
As the future of the proposed Canada - European Union Trade Agreement
becomes increasingly uncertain - the EU has been unwilling to compromise
on the remaining contentious issues leaving the Canadian government
with a deal that offers limited benefits and significant costs - the
Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) is likely to emerge as the
government's new top trade priority.
The TPP has rapidly become of the world's most significant trade
negotiations, with participants that include the United States,
Australia, Mexico, Malaysia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Japan, and Canada.
There is a veil of secrecy associated with the TPP, however, as
participants are required to sign a confidentiality agreement as a
condition of entry into the talks. Despite those efforts, there have
been occasional leaks of draft text that indicate the deal could require
major changes to Canadian rules on investment, intellectual property,
cultural protection, procurement, and agriculture.
The Canadian government has adopted several measures to guard against
leaks by departmental officials. According to documents obtained under
the Access to Information Act, a November 2012 email to government
officials noted that their access to TPP texts was conditioned on
"Secret" level clearance, an acknowledgement that all texts are
watermarked and can be traced back to the source, and confirmation that
no sharing within government is permitted without prior approval.
While the government tries to stop potential leaks, the newly obtained
government documents reveal that the Department of Foreign Affairs and
International Trade has established a secret insider group with some
companies and industry associations granted access to consultations as
well as opportunities to learn more about the agreement and Canada's
Those documents indicate that the first secret industry consultation
occurred weeks before Canada was formally included in the TPP
negotiations in a November 2012 consultation with telecommunications
providers. All participants were required to sign non-disclosure
Soon after, the circle of insiders expanded with the formation of a TPP
Consultation Group created as part of the trade talks in New Zealand in
December 2012. Representatives from groups and companies such as
Bombardier, the Canadian Manufactures and Exporters, Canadian Agri-Food
Trade Alliance, and the Canadian Steel Producers Association all signed a
confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement that granted access to
"certain sensitive information of the Department concerning or related
to the TPP negotiations."
This is not the first time DFAIT has tried to establish a secret
insiders group that is granted preferential access to proposed treaty
information not otherwise available to the public. During the
Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement negotiations, the department planned
for a similar insider group - called a Trade Advisory Group - that
initially included representatives from the music, movie, software, and
pharmaceutical industries. The plan was scuttled only after the
department's intention became public.
While the need for business insight as part of trade talks is
understandable, the two-tier approach raises serious concerns about the
lack of transparency associated with Canada's global trade strategy. As
the Canada - EU Trade Agreement has begun to founder, Canadian officials
have become increasingly tight-lipped about the specific concerns
associated with the agreement. By contrast, European officials
regularly update both elected officials and the general public. In fact,
Europe has become the primary source for information about where Canada
stands in the negotiations.
The creation of a secret TPP insider group suggests that the government
is shying away from public consultation and scrutiny of an agreement
that could have a transformative effect on dozens of sectors. With TPP
negotiations set resume in Lima, Peru in less than two weeks, Canada
should be increasing efforts to gain public confidence in the talks by
adopting a more transparent approach.
Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and
E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. He can
reached at email@example.com or online at www.michaelgeist.ca.TagsShareTuesday May 07, 2013
Industry Minister Christian Paradis appeared before the Standing
Committee on Industry, Science and Technology last week and was
asked what he thought Canadians would say about wireless pricing.
Paradis instead indicated what he would tell them:TagsShareTuesday May 07, 2013
I would tell them that when we compare with our peers, we are
in the middle-average, we dropped down by almost 20% and this is
a work in progress. We will continue. We are dedicated to have a
fourth player and we will do whatever we can in terms of policy
to achieve this. Frankly, so far time gave us reason.
If this is a work-in-progress, is the government prepared to do
more? Apparently it is, as Paradis also told the committee:
When you talk about the roaming and the tower
sharing, we announced broader measures, and if we have to
intervene more we will.