Sunday, February 10, 2008

How's that "free" trade, exactly?

Published on 7 Feb 2008 by Energy Bulletin / blog. Archived on 7 Feb 2008.
by Richard Heinberg

There is a strange clause in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that applies to only one country—Canada. The clause states that Canada must continue to supply the same proportion of its oil and gas resources to the US in future years as it does now. That’s rather a good deal for the US: it formalizes Canada’s status as a resource satellite of its imperial hub to the south.

From a Canadian perspective there are some problems with the arrangement, though. First is the fact that Canada’s production of natural gas and conventional oil is declining. Second is that Canada uses lots of oil and gas domestically: 70 percent of Canadians heat their homes with gas, and Canadians drive cars more and further than just about anyone else. The problem is likely to come first with natural gas; as production declines, there will come a point when there isn’t enough to fill domestic needs and continue to export (roughly 60 percent of Canada’s gas now goes to the US).

That point is not decades in the future, it is fairly imminent.

Still think NAFTA is such a hot deal, Garnel? How do you like it when Canada gets treated like all those other 3rd world countries - exploited?

If "free trade" was really free, those treaties would only take one page of paper: I won't charge you any tariffs, and you won't charge me any tariffs - sign here.

What "free trade" agreements really are comprised of is thousands of pages of legalese whereby US based transnational corporations get to exploit other countries for their own benefit, while limiting competition to among themselves and giving themselves de facto control of other nations economies with no recourse or oversight from the hapless exploited peoples.

These treaties allow these transnational corporations to externalize costs they should be responsible for themselves: such as for the pollution they cause, the unsafe working conditions that allow them to "save" money, the lack of benefits and health care for the people who are being poisoned and exploited and worked to death by them, and let's not forget the unemployment, the "re-training" and education benefits that are now supposed to be paid to our own displaced workers. You don't think those companies that broke the social contract are paying those costs, do you? Get real. You are.

By removing the ability of countries to charge tariffs, the transnationals remove the ability of the governments to recoup those costs that the companies should have been paying but aren't. We will have to pay for all these externalized responsibilities. You see, the items you buy don't "cost" any less at all. It's just that some of the costs of the item have been moved to your tax bill instead of your merchandise receipt. Now you have to pay higher taxes to clean up the toxic mess, pay for healthcare and retirement and the social costs these companies cause but no longer pay for themselves. That "savings" that is passed on to you is fake - you don't save a single dime. In fact, you end up paying MORE in taxes over the long run because an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It takes a whole lot more money to fix a mess than it does to do things right in the first place. And guess who pays? Not them, they dumped both their costs and the tariffs that could have kept those costs from being taken out of your wallet. You get to be responsible for their costs.

But remember - government collects less in tax money from people whose only work is wally-world type service jobs. That means either you're going to be paying a LOT more in taxes - because the Katrina-type disasters aren't going to stop just because the transnational corporations moved away to places with no environmental laws (or wage laws, or labour laws, or safety laws, etc.). No, you will get all of the bills and none of the living wage employment. Isn't that nice? Global warming couldn't care less about political boundaries - neither do epidemics and lowered wages.

That's what "free trade" is really all about, class. They make more profit exploiting others and screwing us out of the benefits (healthcare, retirement, etc.) they promised us in lieu of wages, and you get to pay to clean up all the mess they made doing it, both here and there.

1 comment:

Garnel Ironheart said...

Wait a sec hun,

>Still think NAFTA is such a hot deal, Garnel? How do you like it when Canada gets treated like all those other 3rd world countries - exploited?

The personal attention is flattering, believe me. I don't ever recall saying NAFTA was a hot deal. Indeed, I think the original FTA was very badly done from the Canadian side. The bottom line is that the prime minister of the day, Brian Mulroney, was desperate for a deal by a certain date no matter what and the American negotiators knew this so they stuck all sorts of annoying one-sided conditions into the deal knowing Mulroney would sign it to save face.

As for being a resource-based colony of the US, well of course we are. Why is there no Canadian car company? Because we signed something called the Auto Pact in which the US promises to try and give us automobile producing factories despite the fact it would be cheaper to build them in Mexico and in return we gave up our right to ever try and develop our own cars. Does that sound fair to you?

I agree with you: free trade should mean free trade and this agreement definitely doesn't do that.

Listen, Ahavah, I think you're swell. You're certainly very intelligent and thorough in your research. But I'm not your enemy. Disagreement through dignity isn't a sin. Don't decide what I believe before I've told you and we'll get along just fine.