Maude Barlow - Combating TTIP's Canadian cousin


11 February 2016

Maude Barlow, Chair of the Council for Canadians, has dedicated her life to fighting injustice, particularly 'free trade' deals. In November, she toured the UK to raise awareness of CETA, a Canada-EU trade deal which has been called 'TTIP's ugly brother'. In this interview, Maude told Nick Dearden why she thinks CETA is just as scary as TTIP - and how she got into campaigning.

Why are you here in the UK?  

I want people to realise that if they care about TTIP then they need to urgently take action on the Canadian equivalent, CETA (the Comprehensive Economic & Trade Agreement). Partly this is because CETA will be bad in itself. A lot of Europeans tend to think 'we like Canada, and Canada seems a lot less scary than the US'. But we've been through a decade of serious deregulation. And 75% of all mining companies are headquartered in Canada, with an appalling human rights and environmental record.

But CETA also matters because it's a branch of TTIP. Maybe we'll stop TTIP, but that won't matter because US corporations will be able to use CETA to take European governments to court and to water down regulations. Already, thanks to CETA negotiations, tar sands oil - the most toxic fossil fuel in the world - is starting to enter Europe. 

You should also learn from Canada, because we've already got free trade agreements with the US. We've lived with this and we know what TTIP and CETA will mean for European countries. Since we signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), we've become the most sued country in world. And most of those cases have been over environmental regulation. Canadian governments make decisions to protect the environment, corporations don't like it, they sue.

So have you benefitted at all from NAFTA?

Well we've got way more millionaires, and big business has been freed from public control, but working people have seen their wages stagnate. Under NAFTA nothing has got better for workers or the environment. In fact, it's been open warfare.

All of this was predicted, even by proponents. Our prime minister at the time said we need to 'We need the cold shower of global competition'.

Well we got it. Just look at climate change. Canada can no longer control exports of energy - it has to treat the US as if it's Canada, so it's difficult to see how Canada can cut back on its  energy output without making life more difficult for the poorest Canadians. This explains the boom in tar sands - it's directly linked to free trade deals.

Actually it gets more scary, because who knows when this might start applying to water too. We've fought it off until now, but we fear for the future. So imagine, Canada exporting limited water supplies to California to maintain unsustainable models of agribusiness or desert cities, with no ability to control it. 

How have you found the tour? 

There's a hunger for new information. Really the campaign is just getting going here. And people really want bigger analysis - they're not just interested in this one deal but the whole way we're governed. In that sense, TTIP is a symbol - and a way of locking in an economic model that's done so much damage. No matter who we elect in future, it will be very hard to row back a whole host of anti-social policies currently being enacted.

You started by working on global trade deals - like taking on the corporate agenda at the World Trade Organisation. How does TTIP link to that global struggle?

Well it's the same struggle. At Council for Canadians, we do tons of globally-focussed work - with women's groups, farmers groups, environmentalists. And the campaigns they're involved in have so much in common.

For instance, a real concern for us is building a global water movement, to stop privatisation of water and other forms of water commodification - like the new markets being set up to trade water. Before our eyes, water is being turned from a right into property. This started out as looking 'environmental' - let's give water a price and we'll be better able to conserve it. But what actually happened? Big farmers bought up the water 'rights' of small farmers, then international investors come in, and water becomes a commodity to make profit from.

Chile's situation is the worst. It has 100% of water services privatised. Big business buys up water and can then use it in anyway it wants - pour toxins into it, be as unfair and unsustainable in their usage as they want. They own it.

This is completely connected with the 'free trade' agreements. For instance, under NAFTA, a company has already sued Canada on the basis that they owned the water. When the company withdrew from Canada, they argued that they deserved compensation for losing their property: the water 'rights' they held. 

So this isn't a clear cut 'North vs South' battle. The ecological crisis has come home to the global North, just like structural adjustment and debt crisis. In US, there are terrible problems in California, Florida, the Great Lakes. Poor people getting cut off from water and energy through austerity in Europe.

Detroit in the US is the most extraordinary situation where, following 'bankruptcy' the right wing governor just dismissed democratic council powers and put in a general manager to, among other things, privatise water. He didn't go after big business for not paying their bills, but the poor. They were looking at 3,000 households cut off a week. Then social services come and take your kids away as you can't raise kids without running water.

But there is a really global movement fighting back. This isn't charity - building a well and feeling good about yourself. It's about ordinary people having control of water, land and resources. We fought water privatisation and had some amazing victories. But that wasn't the end - we've a long way to go. 

How did you get started on this life of campaigning?

Originally i was in the women's movement, where I even advised the previous Prime Minister Trudeau (the father of the new Prime Minister). And we'd heard that President Reagan was pushing his agenda on Canada via trade agreements. And we thought this would have a devastating impact on women's equality because it was such a backward-looking agenda.

Well I soon learnt about how these agreements work and we formed an organisation to fight it. They called me the unofficial leader of the opposition I was so vocal. We went on to build the best movement Canada's seen - with unions, faith groups, first nations, women's groups. It was grassroots, bottom-up. And it worked - before the terror attacks on 9/11 really hurt the movement.

The government can dismiss us as activists but can't dismiss voters so easily. We need to build personal relationships locally, all over the country. It's so much more powerful than a national office saying something.

There is some hope in Canada again now. We've been through a period of Thatcherism. It's such a boost to see that government lose. They waged war against anyone who might disagree with them, especially charities - thank God we're not a charity. They started forcing them to work with mining companies if they wanted to get government aid.

Now all of this damage can't just be undone overnight. Look at Britain - it still hasn't undone the policies of the Thatcher government. And it's even more difficult now in that we have these trade agreements which lock in all the bad laws passed. In Canada, power's been consolidated at the top, child poverty's massively increased. We can't have the battle against this social destruction made even harder by trade deals. So they must be front and centre of our fight.

A version of this interview appears in the current issue of Ninety Nine magazine which is sent to Global Justice Now supporters. You can become a supporter of Global Justice Now here.

Download Global Justice Now's briefing on the EU-Canada trade deal, CETA.

Email your MEPs and tell them to stop CETA

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