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Parties weigh in on CETA

A fair trade awareness group has released the results of their questionnaire for political leaders on the proposed Canadian--European Union free trade agreement, revealing levels of concern ranging from strong to non-existent among the party leaders.

The survey, composed by the Trade Justice Network and Québec Network on Continental Integration—who claim collectively to represent four million Canadians—consisted of 12 questions about the Canadian--European Union Enhanced Trade Agreement currently undergoing secret negotiations between the government and representatives of the EU.

The questionnaire was sent to leaders of all five of the main political parties in the country, but responses were only received from the Liberals, Bloc Quebecois, and the New Democratic Party.

The organizations say the results indicate the Liberals were the most favourable of the three parties towards the deal as it stands:

The Liberal Party says "the opportunities for both Canada and Europe are extraordinary and we support the pursuit of this CETA with the EU." The party did not take a position on each question but instead weighed the pros and cons of opening procurement markets, accepting the EU's proposed copyright and patent reforms, and agriculture. A question on supply management is not addressed, and the party does not endorse or reject a cultural exception, claiming: "We must address the conflict between protection versus expansion" of cultural industries.

The Bloc saw the deal as a chance to move away from trade with the United States and provided the opportunity to change how trade was done with other countries:

…the party says CETA gives Canada a chance to incorporate more progressive rules into its trade agreements which would respect labour rights, environmental protections and engage civil society more fully. The Bloc would like to see new benchmarks for investment protection so that environmental and public health policies are not challenged as trade barriers. They insist on a strong cultural exception, they would protect supply management of agricultural sectors, and like the NDP they say public agencies should be able use purchasing, for example of transportation and energy services, as a tool for economic development.

The NDP were most opposed to the deal as it currently stands, but did not rule out a trade deal between Canada and the EU, which represents 27 member states:

The NDP "views investor-state provisions as an inequitable element in trade agreements that privilege corporations in a way that conflicts with the public interest." On CETA's intellectual property chapter, the party says: "Tying Canada further into arrangements that protect the patent drug industry is not in the interests of a country that must reassess its entire approach to pharmaceutical therapy in our public health care system." The NDP supports a broad cultural exception, as well as a health exception stipulating that "nothing in CETA shall be construed as applying to health care or public health insurance." The NDP stated "the current version of the Canada-EU Economic Trade Agreement needs significant improvement if the interests of Canadians are to be protected."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper indicated during his election campaign that he hopes to have an agreement with the EU signed by next year.

Katie Hyslop is covering the election for The Tyee.

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