Category Archives: TRIPS

Canadian aid to Yemen is a humanitarian band-aid

Too often international “aid” seems to be like the rich and powerful buying “indulgences” to atone for their sins in medieval times. Certainly it is commonly doled out to gloss over global inequities. It’s definitely a tool Ottawa employs to present itself as generous while sustaining unequal corporate and imperial power structures that benefit Canada.

At a recent donor meeting the Canadian government pledged $70 million for Yemen. To explain the donation Minister of International Development Karina Gould declared, “Yemen is undergoing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and its people deserve decisive action. Their suffering must end, and their rights and dignity must be protected. We must do everything possible to make this happen.”

But Gould’s “everything possible” doesn’t include stopping Canada from fueling a six-year-old Saudi-led war that has left over 100,000 Yemenis dead. In response to the international development minister’s announcement World Beyond War Canada’s Rachel Small tweeted, “genuinely floored by the hypocrisy. $295 million in aid to Yemen since 2015 is a drop in the bucket compared to $6 billion in weapons Canada exported to Saudi Arabia in the same period. As Karina Gould knows the most important action needed for Yemen is for Canada to stop arming Saudi Arabia.”

According to Statistics Canada data for January, Canadian armoured vehicle sales reached a whopping $487 million, the largest ever monthly total. Canada also exported $4.8 million worth of “arms and ammunition” to the Saudis in January. Additionally, Montreal-based flight simulator company CAE has trained Saudi pilots in numerous locales. “Under Trudeau, Canada Is Saudi Arabia’s Most Dedicated Gunrunner”, explains a recent article by Kelsey Gallagher of Project Ploughshares.

In a sign of the depraved state of Liberal discourse, Canada’s ambassador to the UN, Bob Rae, simply denies it all. He recently claimed, “we don’t sell arms to any of the parties to the conflict” in Yemen while six months ago Rae responded to a UN report that documented Canada’s role in fueling the conflict by labeling Canadian exported armoured vehicles “jeeps”. “It’s not what you’d call a weapon,” he said.

Alongside the weapon deliveries, the Liberals have mostly ignored Saudi violence in Yemen. They have rarely criticized Saudi bombing and when they have it has been in polite terms.

At best Canada’s aid to Yemen is a bandage on a humanitarian catastrophe spurred by a war Ottawa fuels.

A similar dynamic is at play with Canadian aid for international COVID-19 support. In December Canada put up $485 million to help impoverished nations access vaccines. But Ottawa has hoarded vaccines, having amassed enough to inoculate the entire Canadian population five times over. More troublingly, the government has refused to support a World Trade Organization (WTO) proposal calling for a temporary waiver of certain rules on intellectual property rights to allow poor countries to produce COVID-19 vaccines. The World Health Organization and over 100 countries back the “Waiver from certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement for the Prevention, Containment and Treatment of COVID-19”. Canada and a number of other rich countries are refusing to support an initiative opposed by Big Pharma. Under mounting pressure over the five-month-old proposal, the Trudeau government now denies it opposes the patent waiver, claiming it simply wants more information about the effectiveness of the proposal. In the meantime, the initiative has been repeatedly put off and much of the Global South has little access to COVID vaccines.

Canada’s COVID donation masks Ottawa’s unwillingness to challenge Big Pharma and the broader intellectual property rights lobby.

Individual aid projects are often helpful (though many are not). Still, progressives shouldn’t spend time calling for more aid. In a just world, transfer payments from wealthier regions to poorer ones would smooth out inequities. But, in the here and now it’s important to be cautious about feeding ‘more Canada’ ideology that enables destructive, interventionist, policies.

Rather than pushing for more aid, progressives should challenge corporate and imperial power structures. In this vein, activists recently delivered a letter to the PMO signed by 68 groups, representing one million Canadians, demanding an end to arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Similarly, dozens of groups sent a letter to Trudeau last week calling on Canada to support a WTO waiver for COVID vaccines.

Beyond specific campaigns, we need social movements and political parties to challenge the arms economy and upward flow of wealth spurred by intellectual property rights accords and other forms of exploitation. In brief we need masses of Canadians questioning an unjust status quo.

We need to build a peaceful, fair world where aid is given because we are all our sisters’ keepers.

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Trudeau chooses big pharma’s rights over health of billions

The Canadian government is choosing corporate property rights over the health of billions.

The World Trade Organization is currently discussing a proposal by India and South Africa calling for a waiver of certain rules on intellectual property rights to allow poor countries to produce COVID-19 vaccines. Backed by about 100 countries, the initiative to temporarily waive some elements of the TRIPS Intellectual Property Rights accord has been opposed by Ottawa. The Liberals’ opposition to the “Waiver from Certain Provisions of the TRIPS Agreement for the Prevention, Containment and Treatment of COVID-19” is particularly galling since Canada is hoarding COVID-19 vaccines. A recent report showed that Canada was the worst offender in the world, having amassed enough vaccines to cover the entire Canadian population five times over. Many poor countries have barely enough vaccines on order to cover 10% of their population.

Canada has aligned with the US, Switzerland and EU and Big Pharma on an issue that could save many lives. Hopefully, growing criticism will prompt Ottawa to shift its position but the Canadian government has long supported strengthening (anti-free market) intellectual property rights in international trade forums. More generally, Canada usually aligns itself with the demands of the richest countries at the WTO.

Recent protests in India inadvertently shone a light on the issue. Over the past week farmers in India have launched massive protests against a bid to deregulate crop pricing. While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke in favor of the protest, the Indian media has pointed out that Canada has consistently sought to undercut India’s minimum support price (MSP) for small farmers at the WTO. In a story titled “Hello Canada! Trudeau support to India’s farm protests contradict Canada’s WTO stand”, Business Today reported that over the past four years Canada has raised 65 “questions” against India’s agricultural policies at the WTO’s Committee on Agriculture. Canada’s criticisms focused on “India’s MSP-based market price support policies for agriculture products to India’s public stockholding programmes for food security to India’s trade policies on pulses.”

At the WTO Canada is a member of the Cairns Group of Agriculture Exporters. In a bid to expand their country’s exports, the Cairns Group pushes to eliminate supports for small-scale local agricultural producers.

Through the WTO Canada has also recently challenged European Union restrictions on gene-edited crops. In July 2018 the European Court of Justice ruled that agricultural gene editing should be regulated under the EU’s genetically modified organisms (GMO) protocols. In response Canada, the US and 11 other countries criticized EU farm product regulations at the WTO. They claimed that exports with a low-level presence of gene-edited crop should not be restricted even if the product was unapproved in the recipient nation. Changing food at the molecular level, gene-editing is used to modify the flavour or texture of fruits. Big agricultural firms such as Monsanto/Bayer promote gene editing partly to tighten their grip over the food supply. But there are unresolved questions about the long-term effects of gene-edited organisms on human health and the environment.

Prior to the pandemic Ottawa coordinated a bid to recharge the WTO that reinforced international inequities. In October 2018 international trade minister Jim Carr created a coalition of 13 WTO members (EU, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Kenya, Mexico, Singapore, New Zealand, South Korea, Norway and Switzerland). The group met in Ottawa amidst trade tensions between the US and China and while the US president was criticizing the WTO. The aim of the initiative was to find an agreement on WTO reform that could later be brought to the institution’s broader membership. The spokesperson for the African Group, South Africa’s envoy to the WTO, Xavier Carim, criticized the Canadian-led scheme. “When we look at these proposals, we see them as making the imbalance that we have even worse,” said Carim. “They should make it difficult for developing countries to advance.” Carim said the African Group wanted greater policy space to industrialize and reforms to agricultural trade distortions.

Why are Trudeau’s Liberals not supporting this sensible policy to help the people of poorest continent?

Because Ottawa is in thrall to big business and supporting the interests of the already wealthy.

But, surely ending the COVID-19 pandemic must be a priority. The faster the world’s population has access to vaccinations, the better off we will all be.

Sensible people should demand: Free the vaccines now!

 

 

Take a minute to write to international trade minister Mary Ng and foreign minister François-Philippe Champagne and all Canadian MPs to tell them Canada should stop opposing the “Waiver from Certain Provisions of the TRIPS Agreement for the Prevention, Containment and Treatment of COVID-19”.

 

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