Despite fears and objections from experts and the federal opposition, the Manitoba NDP is moving towards integration with China - just like their federal Conservative counterparts.
Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger wrapped up a 10-day trade mission in China Sept. 21, on the heels of a similar trip by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who signed a Foreign Investment Protection Agreement (FIPA) with the country earlier in the month.
“The provincial government sees expansion into the Chinese, and other Asian markets, as essential to the continuing growth of the economy in Manitoba,” said provincial spokesperson Matthew Williamson. “China is Manitoba’s second-largest trading partner.”
The province’s trajectory of trade with China stands to benefit megaprojects like CentrePort, which is deeply tied in with the federal strategy of developing the Asia-Pacific Gateway and multiple North American trade corridors.
CentrePort consists of multiple projects and agreements that will increase Winnipeg’s capacity for multimodal shipping. Construction continues on the $212-million CentrePort Canada Way, the largest capital highway project in Manitoba’s history that will create 3,200 employment years, according to CentrePort spokesperson Riva Harrison.
No matter the fate of any of these agreements, CentrePort’s mandate remains developing the 20,000 acres of land in west Winnipeg into two industrial parks and related multimodal shipping infrastructure, she said.
“Anything that increases potential trade with China is an opportunity we need to explore,” said Harrison.
The federal investment treaty with China, along with the developing Trans-Pacific Partnership, are agreements poised to facilitate export growth.
But critics are asking at what cost.
Gus van Harten, an expert on international public law from Osgoode Hall Law School at York University, identifies article 20 of the recent investment pact with China as mirroring the investor’s rights clauses found in the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The investment treaty allows investors to sue Canada outside of the Canadian courts when their assets are harmed by decisions made by entities in Canada. These suits are overseen by international arbitrators with no regulatory standards in international law. They also have no legal codes of conduct or an oversight body, said van Harten.
The same treatment would be afforded to Canadian investors in China, the federal government says.
The Canada-China FIPA is a step towards providing better protection and security of Canadian investments in China through rules that protect against discriminatory and arbitrary practices, said Caitlin Workman, spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
“Our government is committed to creating the right conditions for Canadian businesses to compete internationally,” Workman said.
Thomas Mulcair, opposition leader of the federal NDP, said in a statement the deal “lacks the level of transparency and openness that Canadians deserve.”
“The Harper government has signed an agreement against the best interests of Canadians that exposes taxpayers to costly legal challenges via unaccountable tribunals that do not reflect acceptable standards of the rule of law,” Mulcair said.
“It does not guarantee Canadian investors the reciprocity with the rights that Chinese investors have secured.”
When asked if they support the FIPA with China, Williamson said in the event that any investor believes that they have not been fairly treated, the NDP recognizes the right of investors to pursue legal remedies.
The federal NDP, while opposing this agreement, have so far been unwilling to provide one of their opposition days to fully debate the issue in the House of Commons, said federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May, who has called for an emergency debate on the issue.
Published in Volume 67, Number 8 of The Uniter (October 24, 2012)