New report shows how trade deals undermine health, environmental regulation

May 27, 2019: A new report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and European research groups analyses the history of trade agreement provisions that seek to “harmonise”  government regulation dealing with health and environmental regulation. The study includes World Trade Organisation agreements, and more recent regional and bilateral trade agreements.

The authors argue that global corporations, in the name of reducing "red tape"  have lobbied successfully for reduced standards of regulation in trade agreements that suit their interests, but which can undermine the public interest. These rules can prevent government from acting in response to new information or changed conditions which require new forms of regulation, like food safety or measures to address climate change.

The deregulatory trend is of particular concern in the European Union, which has applied precautionary principles to health and environmental regulation. This principle states that, if an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. Canada is also applying these principles in some areas.

The authors argue that the regulatory provisions in the Canada-Europe Trade Agreement and the revised US-Canada-Mexico agreement give corporations even stronger rights to influence public regulation than those in previous agreements, undermine the precautionary principle and are against the public interest.

AFTINET has made similar criticisms of the deregulatory provisions in the TPP-11 in our submission to parliamentary inquiries. Australia is also currently negotiating an agreement with the EU  and the RCEP agreement  with 15 Asia Pacific countries which could contain similar proposals.