Unifor economist Jordan Brennan told the Real News how the TPP is part of an old trend in opening up Canada’s markets
THOMAS HEDGES, TRNN: Since the conclusion of Trans-Pacific Partnership talks last week Canadians have been struggling to make sense of a trade agreement that has burst on to the political stage before the national elections. People are worried that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper wont’ follow through on his promise to release the text to Canadians so that they can vote accordingly. – He won’t tell Canadians what’s in the deal. He won’t release the full text. But Stephen Harper is selling out our auto workers, sacrificing our farming families, making prescription drugs more expensive, risking our Canadian culture. Stephen Harper has to come clean, and has to release the full text ahead of the election. HEDGES: With so much confusion and secrecy around the TPP right before the elections there have been few efforts to talk about the forces that established international trade in Canada, and which the TPP would finally enshrine. We asked Unifor economist Jordan Brennan about the nature and origins of the fierce push to open up Canada’s markets. JORDAN BRENNAN: Well, it’s interesting. If you look at, where did the move for trade and investment liberalization come from in Canada? It came from large firms, big business, going all the way back to the 1970s. But after being opposed to trade and investment liberalization for 100 years, back in 1911–so a full century ago–we had a major election in Canada in which the Wilfrid Laurier Liberals wanted to liberalize trade. It was called back then reciprocity with the United States. And the Canadian Manufacturers Association came out against the Laurier Liberals saying that they would be enveloped. Canada would disappear, industrially speaking. And they lost the election. So big business was against liberalized trade and investment for a full century, and then in the 1970s they were for it. And they pushed the Conservative party to form a progressive Conservative party hard in the early 1980s to adjust their position on it. And so the move towards liberalized trade and investment comes from big business, and they’ve used the Conservative party to advance it politically. HEDGES: Brennan says that for Canada exporting goods isn’t really that important, even though it’s a main selling point for advocates of the TPP. What does matter for private industry is the ability to invest abroad and seek revenue from outside of the country. BRENNAN: The Harper government, for example, has signed half a dozen free trade, so-called free trade deals, with countries in Latin America and Asia and so on. And that has done nothing to boost exports. In fact, the export share of GDP in Canada has declined since Stephen Harper first came to power in 2006. But what has happened, interestingly, is large Canadian firms have increasingly internationalized. And by that I mean their ownership stake in foreign countries has gone up. So if we go back to the 1980s, less than 25 percent of the corporate sector’s profitability came from outside of Canada. And now in more recent times, almost one half of Canada’s corporate profitability through its various subsidiaries and so on comes from outside Canada’s borders. So what is globalization about? Is it about the internationalization of trade, or is it about the internationalization of business ownership? The facts in Canada support the notion that so-called globalization, so-called free trade, is really about business ownership, not about trade. And those are separate things.
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