How the hell is this free trade?







Hey, do you like free trade?

Do you think the market should decide the price for things like, say, milk and wine?

Well you’re a dangerous radical.

Thanks to the slow trickle of CETA-related leaks, we now know that Canada sold out our domestic generic drug companies and solidified the puritanical death grip on our domestic liquor trade, mostly out of fear of Asiago-wielding farmers.

Free trade!

Thanks to a German TV network, we know that Canada folded under pressure on investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms.  If you want the legal explanation of what means, you can read this.  If you want the simple explanation, you can basically imagine a courtroom with a thousand different lawyers representing giant drug companies, suing Canada because they don’t like our laws.

Ottawa maintains some pretty loose patent laws.  Basically, it means that small generic companies have the ability to release copies of big name-brand drugs pretty quickly after the initial drug has been put out.  That means Canadians pay less, healthcare costs go down, and we can send aid to developing countries.  Yay, right?

Not so yay.  Countries with big populations of pharmaceutical companies hate this.  It means a huge loss in revenue.   So the Europeans got us to bend a little bit, in lengthening the patent time.  No biggie.

But here’s the catch: CETA sets up a process where, essentially, corporations can sue different governments.  For us, it means that there will be a line up of big drug companies looking to get us to change our laws.  Aside from CETA, there’s a handful of other deals that will facilitate that.

Companies can already sort-of do this through NAFTA.  Eli Lilly is trying it right now, by suing us for $500 million because we won’t buy their drugs, or something.  CETA will blow the practise wide open.

We tried to make sure that wouldn’t happen.  We pushed the Europeans to acquiesce.  But, of course, we can’t expect too much —after all, we were pig-headed ideologues when they asked us to dismantle our supply management system that would have made Stalin blush.

You know, that wonderful farmer-led cartel that protects the small consortium of dairy and chicken farmers who have the wonderful privilege of owning some of those wildly expensive production quotas managed by the federal government to propagate a market where Canadian consumers are paying out the nose for milk.  Thank god.

Canadian dairy plants produce some $14 billion per year.  Canadian drug companies nearly $8 billion.

The former benefits from a government-backed cartel that determines pricing based on what’s best for the cartel and punishes people who try to operate outside their regulatory market.  The latter is a competitive, market-driven industry that delivers savings to the consumer.

The government has sacrificed the benefit of one to the determinant of the other.

Canada also went to great lengths to protect the teetotalism that is Canada’s management of wine, liquor and beer.  Because gosh dang we mustn’t sell dangerous goods in corner stores, else our society falls apart.  Like in Alberta and Quebec.

Tucked in the leaked documents are repeated commitments that the provinces will have discretion to tighten and restrict access and investment in our tight-assed booze market, lest the toddlers of the nation fall off the wagon again.

So there’ll be no more tariffs for European wine, but your friendly provincial liquor store may decide to set the price at virtually wherever it wants, especially if it feels like favouring local wines.

Free trade!

All this despite the fact that there is virtually no coherent economic rationale for maintaining the government-managed liquor monopolies/oligarchies, aside from the effusive idea that we should protect our innocent youth from the horrors of alcohol, given that there is no correlation between liquor laws and drunk driving fatalities in the provinces nor is there any connection between private liquor sales and price.

No, but heaven forbid, we make a product that Canadians want accessible and determined by market factors.  Oh, what hell would be brought upon us then, if we were to descend down that slip’n’slide to hell.

To review: dairy: good, liquor: bad, cheap medicine: really bad.

You know when it would have been great to know about all this?

Before we finalized the goddang language of the deal.

But no, we had to keep the whole thing secret.  We can’t be like those radicals over at the World Trade Organization, who go around publishing details of ongoing trade negotiations and letting the citizens of the affect countries have a say in the deals.  That would be anarchy!

Good god we mustn’t have affordable pharmaceuticals determined by domestic legislation, nor sensible regulations on how to buy alcohol.

We need patent policy born out of fear of international law suits, alcohol prohibitions dictated by the temperance movement, and a spirited defence of a Soviet-inspired agricultural policy.




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Follow Justin Ling on twitter: @Justin_Ling

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