The secrecy of the SPP

Linda McQuaig takes on the Security and Prosperity Partnership:

Since the SPP initiative was officially launched in March 2005, the public has been effectively shut out of the process. There’s been little awareness, let alone public debate, about what’s going on. The key advisory body in the SPP is an all business group called the North American Competitiveness Council, made up of 30 CEOs from the United States, Canada and Mexico.

It’s fine to have input from business. But why only business? Corporations have interests that aren’t necessarily the same as the broader public interest. In fact, these two sets of interest are often in conflict.

Take the case of harmonisation of regulations – a process being carried out under the SPP in the name of removing “trade barriers”. (Harmonisation has been underway for more than a decade under the North American Free Trade Agreement, but it is being fast-tracked as part of the SPP.)

Here’s an actual example of how this works: Canada recently raised the limit on the amount of pesticide residue allowed on fruits and vegetables, in order to bring Canadian standards in line with weaker US standards.

This suits the interest of agribusiness, which considered the tougher Canadian standard a “trade barrier” to the easy export of American fruits and vegetables to the Canadian market. But one person’s trade barrier is another person’s dinner.

As a Canadian who likes to eat fruits and vegetables, I find this act of harmonisation alarming. And it is no doubt the beginning of things to come.

Canada’s standards are already weak enough – much weaker, for instance, than European standards. (Canada permits the pesticide permethrin to be used at levels 400 times higher than the European Union permits; Canada allows methoxychlor at levels 1,400 times above the European limit, according to Canadian environmental lawyer David Boyd.)

Another key area being negotiated under the SPP is national security. This involves Canada and Mexico becoming bit players in beefing up protection of the “homeland” – that is, going along with the Bush administration’s excesses in the name of border security and surveillance of “terror” suspects.

A stated aim of the SPP talks is “North American energy security,” which essentially boils down to the United States obtaining guaranteed access to Canadian energy. Apart from the obvious compromise this represents to the Canadian national interest, there are also broad environmental issues at stake.

Washington is keen to ensure the rapid development of Alberta’s enormous oilsands. The problem is that vast quantities of fresh water and natural gas are required to transform the tar-like substance into oil – a process that is not only wasteful but also produces particularly high levels of greenhouse gases.

Bush is coming to Canada later this month to discuss the progress of the SPP with Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper and Mexican president, Felipe Calderon.

At the meeting, to be held August 20-21 in Montebello, Quebec, the political leaders will weigh the advice of their business council, while an extensive security cordon will make sure that they continue to hear nothing from the people.

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