Harper turns his back on development at WTO with divisive “pledge against protectionism” and unhelpful Government Procurement Agreement

Original Publication Date: 
16 December, 2011

December 16, 2011

Ottawa – The Council of Canadians is saddened by efforts from the Harper government to yet again undermine multilateralism and the demands of developing countries, this time at the WTO with a harmful “pledge against protectionism.” The social justice organization also regrets that Canada continues to expand the WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement, which unnecessarily restricts public options for supporting local, sustainable development at home and in other countries.

“Fresh from pulling out of the Kyoto Accord and essentially abandoning global efforts to save the planet from climate change, the Harper government is again turning its back on developing countries at the WTO,” says Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the grassroots social justice organization. “The so-called pledge against protectionism, which includes a standstill and rollback on pro-active economic policies, only further undermines the efforts of poor and developing countries to make the global trade system work for them.”

The Council of Canadians joins the Our World Is Not For Sale network, to which it is a member, in asserting that “the global trade framework must work for the 99%: it must provide countries sufficient policy space to pursue a positive agenda for development and job-creation, and that trade rules must facilitate, rather than hinder, global efforts to ensure true food security, sustainable development, access to affordable healthcare and medicines, and global financial stability.”

Instead of continuing the difficult dance with all 150 WTO member states, the Harper government announced proudly it had reached a new agreement with 42 countries on government procurement. The plurilateral WTO Government Procurement Agreement aims to restrict how local governments and other public entities spend public money. The deal explicitly bans offsets, or any conditions such as local content quotas, designed to maximize the local benefit of public spending.

“The GPA is avoided by most developing countries for good reason because it further ties their hands in ways that support powerful multinational services, construction and other firms from the Global North,” says Stuart Trew, trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians. “Now Harper and other rich countries are trying to use this plurilateral form of negotiating as a way to move their priorities forward at the WTO, whether it’s in services liberalization or investment, while leaving developing country concerns behind them.”

The Conservative government is currently pursuing multiple preferential free trade agreements with developed and developing countries, all of which extend the free trade agenda in NAFTA much further in ways that benefit powerful corporations while limiting the powers of local governments to direct economic activity in more sustainable directions. The Council of Canadians is campaigning strongly against the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which even business lobby groups admit is more about restructuring the Canadian economy versus opening new markets in Europe.

The Council of Canadians endorsed and stands by the OWINFS statement, issued before the WTO Ministerial in Geneva this week, which emphasizes the need for the WTO to put jobs, food security and sustainable development first. OWINFS collects organizations, activists and social movements worldwide fighting the current model of corporate globalization embodied in global trading system. These groups are committed to a sustainable, socially just, democratic and accountable multilateral trading system. The recent OWINFS statement on the current WTO Ministerial is available here: http://www.ourworldisnotforsale.org/en/signon/wto-turnaround-food-jobs-and-sustainable-development-first.

For more information:

Dylan Penner, media officer, Council of Canadians: +1-613-795-8685; dpenner@canadians.org