Mr. Paul Dewar (Ottawa Centre, NDP):
Mr.Speaker, I appreciate being given the floor to speak about an urgent and troubling situation. This week, the most consequential investment agreement that Canada has signed since NAFTA is set to be ratified without any debate or study in Parliament.
The text of the Canada-China foreign promotion and protection agreement, known as FIPA, was only made public a few weeks ago. The few experts who have looked into the fine print of the treaty are raising serious concerns for investors, Canadian industries and even provincial governments. The NDP has called for this agreement to be studied, debated and brought forward for a vote, but to no avail. That is why today, as a last resort, we are calling for an emergency debate on this controversial treaty.
Chinese investment is going to be a big part of Canada's economic future and Canadian business needs access to China. However, we need to be smart about how we engage with this increasingly assertive global power. While Canada has resources China wants, we have our own interests to advance as well. Before locking ourselves into a long-term investment treaty, we need to ensure we are not overlooking the details that could cost us dearly down the line.
Osgoode Hall's Dr. Gus Van Harten, an expert in international trade law, points out that the treaty may be unconstitutional because it allows Chinese investors to dispute laws and regulations passed by provinces. Is this true? We do not know because the text of the treaty was revealed a little more than a month ago and provincial governments have not had the chance to complete an analysis.
We also seem to have sacrificed core Canadian values on the negotiating table. Since 2004, Canada has insisted on transparency in the dispute resolution process. No more. Under the agreement, Chinese investors, including state-owned enterprises, could sue the Canadian government in secret. Presided over by unaccountable arbitrators, these tribunals can award billions of dollars in damages to Chinese investors. It is not only hypothetical, Chinese investors are keenly aware of how to use these powers. Ping An, a Chinese insurance company, is currently suing the government of Belgium for $3 billion through a FIPA-style agreement signed with that country.
Does the deal even gain us reciprocal access to China? Under the agreement, China will retain all the non-conforming measures that have made it notoriously difficult for foreign investors to enter its market. Canada will retain the same right on paper, but in practice we have already eliminated most of those barriers. Therefore, in effect, it will remain far easier for the Chinese investors to snap up Canadian companies than vice versa. By locking in relatively open access to the Canadian market for 31 years, we are essentially giving up all the bargaining chips we might have used to pry open the Chinese economy for Canadian investors in a more reciprocal way. Is this FIPA really the best deal we could get?
What scope will it leave for future regulatory changes? As we grow the Canadian conversation about sustainable resource development and diversifying our economy, we want to leave scope for policy innovation. Even now, the Canadian government is scrambling to rethink the beleaguered Investment Canada Act and delay an approval of the CNOOC Nexen purchase. The FIPA makes allowances for existing Canadian policy, but new regulations could be subject to challenge if the treaty is locked in at the end of the month. We need to look ahead because once we sign on the dotted line, we are locked in. While NAFTA can be cancelled at six months' notice, the terms of the China-Canada FIPA are enforced for a minimum of 31 years. According to Gus Van Harten, "The treaty has a 15-year minimum term, then requires one year's notice to terminate, and then lasts another 15 years for all investments that exist at the time of termination".
Before binding Canadians to the terms of this treaty, these issues need to be debated on the Parliament of our country. Even supporters of this treaty are arguing that it needs a public debate. However, time has run out. It is now clear that the Canada-China foreign investment promotion and protection agreement is set to be ratified without any debate in the House. This would be a break from the established practice of government, which has typically sought Parliament's approval for treaties of this magnitude, and it would be a disservice to all Canadians who deserve to hear the merits of this treaty debated.
That is why, Mr. Speaker, I urge you to grant my request for an emergency debate on this treaty.
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