It has often been noted that so-called trade deals, like NAFTA and the still-in-gestation Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union, are not really about trade at all, they are about weakening our ability to govern our own countries.
They are treaties of surrender, where we formally give up the notion that the governments we elect should have the power to make decisions on our behalf, if those decisions get in the way of an international corporation's right to make a profit however they wish to.
These agreements are designed to tie governments’ hands in many areas only peripherally related to trade; they are about putting new types of restrictions on how governments and societies are able to regulate themselves democratically.
More often trade deal rights now supercede government authority
Trade deals have been called stealth delivery systems of extending new rights and privileges to corporations, and permanent restrictions on government regulation of financial services, food safety, health care, energy and more.
Corporate spokespeople understand this. They don't even seem embarrassed by it. The services industry in Europe has demanded that their member companies get the right to challenge Canadian government decisions even if those government decisions are based on legitimate policy issues aimed at protecting the health, safety and environment of Canadians.
Why should a democratically elected government have the right to interfere with the profits of an international corporation over something as meaningless as the health, safety or environment of Canadians? Why indeed.
Eli Lily alleges the Canadian government violated its obligations to foreign investors under NAFTA by deciding not to allow two patents to move forward
The case filed by the Eli Lilly company against the Canadian government makes the point really clear. The only issue that counts is not the decision of a Canadian government, duly elected by the population. It is not the decision of a Canadian court, operating within the constitution of this country, ruling on the meaning of legislation passed by our duly elected government.
What matters to Eli Lilly, the only thing that matters, is the company's right to make an exorbitant profit. The company forecasts net income of at least $3 billion in revenue of at least $20 billion each year for 2013 and 2014.
So what's their problem? Eli Lilly is accusing Canada of violating its obligations to foreign investors under the North American Free Trade Agreement by allowing its courts to invalidate patents for two of its drugs. The company officially filed a complaint this week with NAFTA seeking $500 million US in compensation.
Their claim alleges that Canadian court rulings under our patent laws violated the company's rights under NAFTA, the international trade treaty that covers the U.S., Canada and Mexico. They are exercised about decisions of our Federal Court that said they hadn't earned the right to patent protection for two of their drugs under Canadian law. In one case the judge found that the drug did not meet the threshold of utility for the long-term treatment of ADHD and did not really do what the company said it did. In the other case, the judge found that the drug wasn't any better than other drugs already on the market.
Rights of corporations trump rights of governments under NAFTA and other trade deals
The company did what it had every right to do under Canadian law. It appealed the rulings. But the Supreme Court turned down the appeal, wouldn't even hear the cases. If that happened to any Canadian citizen, it would be game over. That's how our trade system works.
But if you are a multinational corporation covered by NAFTA, or CETA if it gets put into place, or the Trans Pacific Partnership if it comes about - then you have the right to go over the heads of our government and our courts. You would go to the all powerful but essentially secret three person tribunal of trade lawyers and experts, three people who can ignore the decisions of our Parliament, our courts, our Supreme Court, and give the company money for being so dreadfully wronged by our laws and our system of justice! And it would be our money, money from our government that we paid in taxes.
Corporations believe they know what is better for Canadians than Canadian lawmakers do
In its statement Friday, the company's patent counsel said that the Canadian courts' approach to assessing the promise of drug patents could deter companies from developing new drugs for sale in Canada. So, this company is apparently really asking for the $500 million just to help us out, because they know better than our elected government about what our laws should say.
Back a couple of hundred years, a king was famous for having said the “The state, it is me.” A little cheeky, folks thought. But now, the international corporate community can surpass that. They don't have to claim that the state is them; they can cheerfully observe that under trade deals, the state and the right of peoples to govern themselves is increasingly irrelevant.
Self government? It was fun while it lasted.
This is unacceptable nonsense. It's past time for us to reclaim our right to national pride and national self-determination, and send these trade deals to the nearest recycle depot so we can at least make good use of the paper they were printed on.