Barring the unforeseen, the Canada-China Foreign Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement (FIPPA) was set to take effect today (Nov. 1). The verdict on whether it’s good or bad essentially comes down to which international trade expert or experts you trust.
Don’t listen to us — we’re just journalists who read, ask questions and try to reach some sort of conclusion that makes sense and sparks further discussion. Don’t listen to MP John Weston — he may be an international lawyer, but as a member of the ruling party’s caucus, he has something to sell: namely, the Harper government’s agenda. Don’t even listen to Andrew Nikiforuk, whose writings The Chief cited in its editorial, “Shame On Stephen,” published Oct. 18. Nikiforuk has written two books about the topic of the tar sands and Canadian petro-politics, so he has a pretty good idea what questions to ask when it comes to Harper government policies dealing with the resource industries. But he’s still merely a journalist.
The experts who have been cited on the deal in the past month or so on FIPPA have run the gamut — from alarmist to cautionary to nonchalant. Gus Van Harten, the Osgoode Hall law professor cited by Nikiforuk in a recent piece for The Tyee, has said FIPPA would allow Chinese companies to sue Canadian governments before an international tribunal. The B.C. government, for example, could be sued if it tries to block the Northern Gateway project, according to Van Harten.
Other experts appear to agree with the Harperites that that’s not a realistic possibility, in part because of a clause cited by Weston: “The Contracting Parties recognize that it is inappropriate to encourage investment by waiving, relaxing, or otherwise derogating from domestic health, safety or environmental measures.” Two experts quoted last week in the Vancouver Sun concluded that such a lawsuit over Northern Gateway is “unlikely” (the Sun’s term) as a possible FIPPA outcome.
This writer, for one, doesn’t think “unlikely” is good enough. If it’s possible under the agreement, we think Canadians have a right to be concerned. What’s more, the same Sun article cited one expert as having said China would never have agreed to FIPPA without having such proceedings take place behind closed doors, despite the Harperites’ assurances to the contrary.
That’s reason enough, in our minds, for Canadians to take note of FIPPA’s adoption, keep watching the news on the international trade front, and be prepared to hold those responsible to account if things don’t pan out as advertised.
— David Burke