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Trudeau wants North American leaders summit to focus on trade and climate

Brent Patterson


March 12, 2016




The so-called 'Three Amigos' North American leaders summit this summer could be focused on trade and climate change.

The Globe and Mail reports, "Canada will play host to the next North American Leaders’ Summit, this summer, and a senior government official said [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau will make climate change a key focus of the talks along with boosting continental trade." The news report adds, "Mr. Trudeau said the environmental strategy announced at the White House on Thursday [March 10] to regulate potent greenhouse gases such as methane gas and black carbon, limit heavy vehicle emission and safeguard sensitive marine areas in the Arctic must be extended to Mexico."

Trudeau would welcome US president Barack Obama and Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto at this summit which is to take place somewhere in Canada this June or July.

Trudeau presumably intends to build on the trilateral agreement signed in Winnipeg last month by Canada, the United States and Mexico. At that time, CBC reported, "Sources tell CBC News the emphasis will be on a 'low-carbon future' for North America. This essentially kickstarts the detailed, behind the scenes work needed for a continent-wide agreement that will enable all three countries to work together on clean energy and options to reduce greenhouse gas emissions." That news article further highlights that the Winnipeg meeting was the beginning of "discussions on the first North American accord on climate change and clean energy".

Author Gordon Laxer has commented, "Canada’s Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said the Winnipeg agreement builds on 'strides' made toward a continental energy strategy. That’s news to Canadians. What strides and to what end? Would a continental energy strategy help Canada meet its ambitious Paris climate promises? Will it lock Canadians into their traditional role as diggers and exporters of carbon fuels?" Laxer also calls for public consultations on this continental energy strategy, just as the Liberals have promised on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He argues, "Why the double standard? Why should Canadians not be as widely consulted on a continental climate strategy, too?"

A challenge for Mr. Trudeau should also be that the 'free trade' model is the antithesis of good climate policy.

That's in part because the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Chapter 11 investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provision allows transnational corporations with operations in one country to sue the government of one of the other NAFTA countries for lost future profits resulting from public interest legislation. Just two recent examples of this would include Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. launching a US$15 billion Chapter 11 challenge against the United States over its rejection of the proposed 830,000 barrel per day Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and Delaware-registered Lone Pine Resources filing a $250 million Chapter 11 challenge against Canada over Quebec’s moratorium on fracking for oil and gas underneath the St. Lawrence River.

If Mr. Trudeau were interested in renegotiating NAFTA to remove its Chapter 11 provision, he could be met with a US president potentially open to the idea.

In Jan. 2009, Laura Carlsen wrote, "Obama's campaign promise was explicit: 'NAFTA's shortcomings were evident when signed and we must now amend the agreement to fix them'. The president-elect called for enforceable labor and environmental standards in the text, an end to the ability of corporations to sue governments, and emphasizing the needs of 'Main Street' over 'Wall Street'." By Feb. 2009, the Washington Post had reported, "In a joint news conference [in Ottawa], Obama said he wants to find a way to keep his campaign pledge to toughen labor and environmental standards -- and told [then-prime minister Stephen] Harper so -- but stressed that nothing should disrupt the free flow of trade between neighbors."

Wishful thinking could suggest that in the last six months of his presidency, Obama would like to make good on that promise and have that be part of his legacy. That said, Laxer cautions, "It’s easy to see why U.S. officials want continental energy integration. Despite the recent surge in domestic oil production, the U.S. is forecast to still import more than a quarter of its oil through 2035. Washington sees Canada and Mexico as much safer oil suppliers than the Middle East and Venezuela."

But how could Canada meet its transitional energy needs, meaningfully commit to their 1.5 degrees Celsius target (and achieve a 100 per cent clean energy economy by 2050), by locking itself into an energy accord that maintains more than 3 million barrels per day of oil exports to the United States and a trade agreement that protects damaging extractive projects? Perhaps one step would be for the continental energy strategy to include a provision in it that protected governmental measures that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from NAFTA investor-state challenges. Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow has already called for such a provision in the United Nations COP21 climate agreement.

While the Ottawa Citizen recently reported that the North American leaders summit would take place in June, today's news report notes, "Mr. Trudeau has invited Mr. Obama to Ottawa to address a joint session of Parliament. An official said the President will not be able to visit until July when Parliament is adjourned. However, the official said arrangements will be made to recall Parliament for the day of the speech."

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