ZNet | Canada
by Chris Arsenault; August 26, 2007
It’s bound to be a strange cause celebre when the conservative, American, anti-immigrant John Birch Society protests side by side with No One Is Illegal, a radical immigrant rights organization.
But both groups were in Montebello, Quebec last week voicing opposition to the so-called Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), a policy forum focused on North American integration convened by Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, America’s George W., and Mexico’s dubiously elected President Felipe Calderon.
The tripartite meeting between members of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is about increasing economic, political and now security integration but, as Bruce Campbell wrote in the Ottawa Citizen, unlike NAFTA, “the SPP is not a treaty; it is an executive-to-executive agreement. It requires no legislative change and minimal parliamentary involvement.”
After Montebello meetings concluded on August 21, the ‘three amigos’ released a joint statement containing three distinct elements: a “North American Plan For Avian & Pandemic Influenza”, an “SPP Regulatory Cooperation Framework” and an “Intellectual Property Action Strategy.” Few would complain about leaders making plans to keep our chickens healthy, but the other two core elements are problematic.
Regulatory cooperation is a positive thing, if countries are working to ensure the strongest universal rules for dangerous products. But that’s not what’s happening at the SPP. “Some 40 per cent of the pesticides Canada regulates have stricter limits than U.S. regulations,” writes Campbell. “We know the Canadian government is in talks to relax its requirements on pesticide residues on U.S. fruits and vegetables.”
As for intellectual property, that’s something the United States is increasingly concerned about. “The U.S.’s single largest export is not manufactured goods or arms or food, it is copyrights – patents on everything from books to drugs,” writes Naomi Klien. Applications for patents in the US have gone up from an annual 150,000 a year in the late 80s to 275,000 in 2001, the U.K. Guardian reported.
The world of patent protection frequently degenerates into moral and legal absurdities. “You can’t patent snow, eagles or gravity and you shouldn’t be able to patent genes either,” writes Michael Crichton (author of Jurassic Park) in a New York Times editorial. “Yet by now one-fifth of the genes in your body are privately owned.”
The focus on ‘intellectual property’ tugs at something deeper in the SPP mentality; the focus on private gain rather than public good. A reasonable way to judge any initiative is to look at the people driving it. The only ten Canadians allowed to address the leaders in Montebello were corporate executives; documents obtained by the Canadian Labour Congress through an access to information request show that representatives from Manulife Financial, Power Corporation, Ganong, Suncor Energy, Canadian National Railway, Linamar, Bell Canada, Canfor Corporation, Home Depot, and the Bank of Nova Scotia were allowed to address the meeting.
“Private interests holding private discussions about their own business with public officials – that’s lobbying,” said Barbara Byers, executive vice-president of the Canadian Labour Congress. Environmentalists, unions and human rights groups from all three countries were shut out.
The SPP’s official website says the initiative energizes “aspects of our cooperative relations, such as the protection of our environment, our food supply, and our public health.” If protecting the environment really is the goal, wouldn’t it be common sense to have environmentalists at the table rather than companies like Suncor Energy (an oil firm with extensive tar-sands investments) or Canfor (a logging corporation)?
SPP supporters pass off critics as close minded nationalists; and indeed some critics are just that. But, for sensible observers, integration itself is not the problem.
South American nations are engaging in an integrationist project called ALBA or the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, which focuses on improving health-care and education projects throughout the region, increasing trade and technology transfer among member states, improving transportation routes and advancing economic, social and cultural development.
But unlike the SPP, ALBA involves more than the executive branches of governments in member states and large corporations. The process itself is open to grassroots groups; people themselves have a chance to participate directly in shaping the future of their region.
SPP supporters correctly argue that regions around the world are forming competing interest blocks; think the European Union, the Shanghai Cooperation Council, and of course ALBA. However, each of these groups is run differently; the European Union has an elected parliament, the Shanghai Cooperation Council does not. Integration is not an a-political inevitably, it is a process and the process for moving towards the SPP is haphazard, undemocratic and exclusive.
So, while the bedfellows opposing the SPP are certainly strange and sometimes contradictory, that doesn’t mean we’re not all getting screwed.
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