Free Trade Agreement of the Americas
and the Environmentally Ill

special report compiled by NSAEHA Staff, April 2001

      Imagine if after all the hard work of the past few years the pesticide ban could be overturned because it was labeled " a barrier to free trade."  The proposed Free Trade Agreement of America (FTAA) which is the focus of the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City on April 20-22 and related sub-agreements contain a number of terrible clauses affecting the environment, forests, fisheries and water resources, public services and worker protection.  But I want to alert you especially to two critical areas in which, if it is passed, it will affect our health and our access
 to health care.
    1. If the FTAA is adopted as presently drafted, government protective measures based on the precautionary principle (that is taking action to prevent harm when there is reason to expect harm, even if it is not proven to a scientific certainty, which takes many years) will be considered "unreasonable barriers to trade."  This means that moratoriums or bans on products like Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH), genetically engineered foods, or cosmetic pesticides could be overturned and governments sued by the makers of these products for lost profits." As trade lawyer Barry Appleton explains, 'They could be putting liquid plutonium in children's food; if you ban it and the company making it is an American company, you have to pay compensation.'...In an October 2000 exchange at a Parliamentary Environment Committee meeting, Liberal MP Clifford Lincoln asked senior Department of Finance and International Trade (DFAIT) officials Nigel Bankes and Ken Macartney whether it was true that International Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew is fighting against the inclusion of the precautionary principle in domestic environmental legislation, such as the proposed new law to protect endangered species, so as to ensure that Canada is in compliance with the WTO. The trade bureaucrats confirmed that this was indeed so." (Barlow, see below) It is these WTO standards, which are much stricter than existing NAFTA standards, that are planned for inclusion in the new FTAA. There is speculation that this is one reason the Federal government has not passed a moratorium on cosmetic pesticide use.

    2.  The FTAA, unlike NAFTA, would be expanded to include the service sector.  Government services, like health care, would be targets for privatization by foreign companies. "Rick Scott, the president of Columbia, the world's largest for-profit hospital corporation, says that health care is a business, no different from the airline or ball-bearing industry, and he has vowed to destroy every public hospital in North America, as they are not "good corporate citizens.If services are included in the FTAA, as they so clearly appear to be, foreign for-profit health, education and other social service corporations from anywhere in the hemisphere will have the right to establish a "commercial presence" anywhere in Canada. They will have the right to compete for public dollars with public institutions like hospitals, schools and day care centres." (Barlow, see below). The Canadian Medical Association's position is that "the type of health-care system that Canadians and health -care providers want is of primary concern, whereas the goals of trade liberalization in health services is of a secondary nature." 

     Unfortunately, our politicians don't seem to see it that way.   Already under NAFTA Canada was forced to reverse legislation bannning the gasoline additive MMT, which Jean Chretien once called "a dangerous neurotoxin." Canada has also been forced to reverse legislation banning the export of PCBs, and was sucessfully sued for $20 million in lost profits by a US PCB waste disposal company, even though Canada's actions complied with an international convention on hazardous waste. And the proposed new FTAA is much stronger.

     If this agreement is passed it would severely limit our government's ability to protect human health and the environment, not to mention preserve a public health care system.  So the FTAA is not SOME OTHER ISSUE that we can afford to ignore.  It is all the issues we have been concerned about for years and those we will be concerned about in the future, in another form.  Please make sure to help others understand what is at stake here.  And please make your opposition know in whatever way you can.  Consider contacting your representative in Parliament and/or the Prime Minister.


     The above information is drawn principally from Maud Barlow's article, Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, a lengthy document filled with information which can be found at the website of Council of Canadians,