Tag Archives: capitalism

‘Free trade’ has come to mean powerful interests get whatever they want

“Free trade” has become a euphemism for “whatever power wants,” no matter how tangentially tied to transfering goods across international borders.

In an extreme example, Ottawa recently said its Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Israel trumps Canada’s Food and Drugs Act since accurately labelling two wines might undermine a half-century long, illegal, military occupation.

Of little connection to international trade, the North American Free Trade Agreement — and subsequent FTAs — has granted foreign corporations the ability to bypass domestic courts and sue governments in secret tribunals for pursuing policies that interfere with their profit making. Over 75 cases have been brought before the Investor StateDispute Settlement section of NAFTA, which has resulted in tens of millions of dollars paid to companies impacted by Ottawa banning the export of toxic PCB wastes or the import of suspected neurotoxin gasoline additive MMT.

Strengthening this dynamic, Canada’s “free trade” deal with the European Union (CETA) empowers companies to sue municipalities if they expand public services. For instance, a municipality unhappy with private water delivery could face a suit if they tried to remunicipalize (or de-privatize) this service.

CETA, TPP, WTO and other self-described “free trade” agreements also extend patent and copyright protections (monopolies), which stifle competition, a pillar of free trade ideology. CETA’s increased patent protections are expected to drive up already high Canadian pharmaceutical drug costs by between $850 million and $1.65 billion a year. Negotiations to “modernize NAFTA” could end up granting big pharma perks that would effecitvely block Canada’s ability to set up universal pharmacare. Similarly, the yet to be signed TPP strengthens patents and would increase the length of copyright in Canada from 50 to 70 years after the death of an author.

It is little exaggeration to say politicians have come to employ the term “free trade” to mean “whatever powerful corporations want.” But, the Trudeau Liberals recently broadened the term’s definition even further. In a move to make “free trade” mean “whatever powerful interests want,” they announced that Canada’s FTA with Israel supercedes this country’s Food and Drugs Act.

After David Kattenburg repeatedly complained about inaccurate labels on two wines sold in Ontario, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) notified the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) that it “would not be acceptable and would be considered misleading” to declare Israel as the country of origin for wines produced in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Quoting from official Canadian policy, CFIA noted that “the government of Canada does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied in 1967.”

In response to pressure from the Israeli embassy, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and B’nai Brith, CFIA quickly reversed its decision. “We did not fully consider the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement,” a terse CFIA statement explained. “These wines adhere to the Agreement and therefore we can confirm that the products in question can be sold as currently labelled.”

In other words, the government is publicly proclaming that the FTA trumps Canada’s consumer protections. But, this is little more than a pretext to avoid a conflict with B’nai B’rith, CIJA and Israeli officials, according to Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Trade and Investment Research Project director Scott Sinclair. “This trade-related rationale does not stand up to scrutiny,” Sinclair writes. “The Canadian government, the CFIA and the LCBO are well within their legal and trade treaty rights to insist that products from the occupied territories be clearly labelled as such. There is nothing in the CIFTA [Canada–Israel FTA] that prevents this. The decision to reverse the CFIA’s ruling was political. The whole trade argument is a red herring, simply an excuse to provide cover for the CFIA to backtrack under pressure.”

In another commentary on the government “backtracking under pressure,” Peter Larson points out that CIFTA grants Israel an important concession that seeks to sidestep Canada’s commitments under international law. The agreement says, “unless otherwise specified, ‘territory’ means with respect to Israel the territory where its customs laws are applied,” but omits “in accordance with international law,” which is in many of Canada’s other free trade agreements. This omission seeks to allow goods produced on land occupied in contravention of the 4th Geneva Convention and Statute of Rome to benefit from CIFTA.

David Kattenburg and his lawyer Dmitri Lascaris will be challenging CFIA’s decision in court. On Monday they filed an appeal of the wine labelling and released a statement to the media.

The Council of Canadians and Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives have recently added their voices to those criticizing CFIA’s decision. The NDP’s trade critic has yet to comment.

Kattenburg and Lascaris’ court challenge offers NDP leadership candidates Niki Ashton, Charlie Angus, Guy Caron and Jagmeet Singh a good opportunity to express their opposition to defining “free trade” as “whatever power wants.”

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Are corporations only responsible for making money?

Imagine if a corporation had to justify its existence beyond making money for capitalists. What would happen if a social balance sheet, as well as financial one, had to be filed every year and companies continually in a deficit position would eventually disappear?

Consider Barrick Gold. Would the world be better off if the world’s largest gold miner ceased to exist?

Pick a continent and you will find a Barrick run mine that has ravaged the environment and spurred social tension. Present at the company’s recent shareholders meeting in Toronto were two women from Papua New Guinea who say they were raped by Barrick security. A few hundred women have been sexually assaulted by company employees near its Porgera mine in the Oceanian country. While the company has provided nominal compensation to some sexual assault victims, in 2011 Barrick founder Peter Munk dismissed the matter in a Globe and Mail interview, claiming “gang rape is a cultural habit” in Papua New Guinea.

Three weeks before the shareholder meeting Barrick’s Veladero mine in Argentina spilled cyanide solution into a handful of rivers in the western San Juan province. This was the third major cyanide spill at the mine in 18 months. An Argentinian court fined Barrick $9.3 million U.S. for spilling one million litres of cyanide into five rivers in September 2015 and is set to impose further fines and restrictions on its operations over its failure to complete mandated improvements that could have prevented the third spill. 270,000 people have signed a petition calling on Argentina’s president to shutter the Veladero mine.

In 2014, reported the National Observer, Barrick dismissed a senior engineer allegedly for raising “serious safety concerns” about the Veladero mine. Raman Autar later sued Barrick in Canadian court for wrongful dismissal.

It’s unknown whether Autar’s warning could have prevented the cyanide spills, but it’s clear the company has repeatedly ignored environmental concerns and targeted those trying to curtail its ecological devastation. In 2009 former Argentine environment minister Romina Picolotti told a foreign affairs committee meeting to discuss bill C-300, which would have reduced Ottawa’s support for the worst corporate offenders abroad, that her staff was “physically threatened” after pursuing environmental concerns about Barrick. “My children were threatened. My offices were wiretapped. My staff was bought and the public officials that once controlled Barrick for me became paid employees of Barrick Gold.”

On the other side of the globe the Toronto company is pressuring the Tanzanian government to abandon an effort to increase the domestic economic benefits from its natural resources. A majority-owned Barrick subsidiary, Acacia Mining is threatening to withdraw from the East African country if the government doesn’t rescind a measure to halt the export of unprocessed ore. Tanzania wants foreign companies to build more gold smelters in the country. By shuttering its operations Barrick is hoping the short-term loss in employment will pressure the government to back off of its efforts to increase the country’s stake from its natural resources.

Last year a Tanzanian tribunal ruled that Barrick organized a “sophisticated scheme of tax evasion” in the East African country. As its Tanzanian operations delivered over $400-million U.S. profit to shareholders between 2010 and 2013, the Toronto company failed to pay any corporate taxes, bilking the country out of $41.25 million.

Two weeks ago Canadian Journalists for Free Expression published a statement decrying the “persecution…journalists in Tanzania are facing… for reporting on mines operated by Acacia Mining.” One reporter fled the country after being threatened by individuals reportedly associated with the company and another received a notice from the government to stop reporting on Acacia.

Since 2006 security and police paid by Barrick have killed at least 65 people at, or in, close proximity, to the Toronto company’s North Mara mine in Tanzania. Most of the victims were impoverished villagers who scratch rocks for tiny bits of gold and who mined these territories prior to Barrick’s arrival.

Within Canada Barrick is a right wing political force. Benefiting from Canadian aid money, Export Development Canada financing and diplomatic support, the company has aggressively opposed moves to withhold diplomatic and financial support to Canadian companies found responsible for significant abuses abroad. Barrick is part of regional corporate lobby groups the Canadian Council of the Americas and the Canadian Council on Africa, as well as being represented on the Senate of the Canadian International Council and the board of the C.D. Howe Institute. The company has sponsored various other right wing groups and events.

Founder and long-time Barrick CEO Peter Munk has provided at least $60 million (he receives tax credits for donations) to right-wing think tanks such as the Fraser Institute and Frontier Centre for Public Policy as well as the Munk Debates and University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. In 2010 the Fraser Institute gave Munk its most prestigious award “in recognition of his unwavering commitment to free and open markets around the globe.”

If it had to justify its existence beyond making money for capitalists Barrick, which mainly produces a mineral of limited social value anyways, would have ceased to exist and the world would be better off.

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Filed under A Propaganda System, Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Canada in Africa

Mining companies receive Canadian ‘aid’

Significant sums in Canadian “aid” are spent promoting international mining initiatives.

In a press release last week Ontario-based Carube Copper said it acquired over “500 square kilometres of the most prospective ground in Jamaica based on historic showings, the work completed and reported in 1993 by the Canadian International Development Agency (‘CIDA’).”

Canadian aid has facilitated similar work elsewhere. Researching Canada in Africa: 300 years of aid and exploitation I discovered examples of Ottawa funding the collection of geological data in Tanzania, Angola, Cameroon, Niger, Uganda, Kenya and elsewhere. Long time West Africa-based freelance journalist, Joan Baxter, describes a chance encounter with Canadian geologists in her 2008 book Dust From Our Eyes: an Unblinkered Look at Africa. “Another CIDA employee I met one evening in Bamako [Mali] told me his work with CIDA had been a long-term project to map the mineral resources of Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. When we spoke, he was on a two-year sabbatical from CIDA, working with Canadian mining companies that had taken out concessions in that country.”

Ottawa has financed various mining-related educational initiatives. CIDA sponsored the Zimbabwe School of Mines, a mid-1990s government-industry collaboration, and financed a Senegalese school for geomatics (combining geography and information technology to map natural resources), which received an added $5 million in 2012. In 2014 Ottawa announced $12.5 million for the Project Strengthening Education for Mining in Ethiopia “to develop more industry driven geology and mining engineering undergraduate programs” at Ethiopian universities. In 2012 CIDA put up $25 million for the Canadian International Institute for Extractive Industries and Development (CIIEID), a university hosted think tank, which International Development Minister Julian Fantino told a Mining Association of Canada meeting would “be your biggest and best ambassador.”

While mining education and geological data collection indirectly benefit Canadian mining companies, millions of dollars have been ploughed directly into corporate social responsibility projects. Ottawa gave $4.5-million to Lundin for Africa, the philanthropic arm of mining giant Lundin Group of Companies, for its operations in Ghana, Mali and Senegal and put up $5.6 million for a project between NGO Plan Canada and IAMGOLD near the company’s mine in Burkina Faso. These aid projects are often about mollifying local opposition to mining projects. In 2012 CIDA invested $500,000 in a World Vision Canada/Barrick Gold project in Peru described as “tantamountto running a pacification program” while between 2003 and 2005 Calgary-based TVI Pacific dispersed tens of thousands of dollars in Canadian aid money to a community opposed to its mine on the Philippine island of Mindanao.

In the most significant boon to international mining firms, Canadian aid has helped liberalize mining legislation. Authors of Imperial Canada Inc.: Legal Haven of Choice for the World’s Mining Industries Alain Deneault and William Sacher cite Botswana, Zimbabwe, Guinea and Zambia among the countries where Canadian aid has shaped mining legislation. Gwendolyn Schulman and Roberto Nieto write: “Canadian cash, technocrats and know-how have also been involved in rewriting mining codes in Malawi, Ghana, Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo (with, in this last case, civil war as a backdrop).”

In the best documented example, Ottawa began an $11 million project to re-write Colombia’s mining code in 1997. CIDA worked on the project with a Colombian law firm, Martinez Córdoba and Associates, representing multinational companies, and the Canadian Energy Research Institute (CERI), an industry think-tank based at the University of Calgary. The CIDA/CERI proposal was submitted to Colombia’s Department of Mines and Energy and became law in 2001.

The “new code flexibilised environmental regulations, diminished labour guarantees for workers and opened the property of Afro-Colombian and indigenous people to exploitation,” explained Francisco Ramirez, president of SINTRAMINERCOL, Colombia’s State Mine Workers Union. “The CIDA-backed code also contains some articles that are simply unheard of in other countries,” added Ramirez. “If a mining company has to cut down trees before digging, they can now export that timber for 30 years with a total exemption on taxation.” The new code also reduced the royalty rate companies pay the government to 0.4 percent from 10 percent for mineral exports above 3 million tonnes per year and from 5 percent for exports below 3 million tonnes. In addition, the new code increased the length of mining concessions from 25 years to 30 years, with the possibility that concessions can be tripled to 90 years.

“Aid” has helped Canada’s companies dominate a global mining industry often mired in conflict and criticized for providing meagre benefits to local communities. It’s hard to understand why this would be considered “aid”.

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Exploitation of Africa often comes with a ‘humanitarian’ smile

What do you call people who try to make people believe what they say but ignore the results of what they do? How about spin-sploiters?

After a few years of research I have come to realize that there is a long and ignoble history of Westerners exploiting Africans while touting humanitarian objectives. Unfortunately, this practice is not confined to the distant past.

A leading Canadian NGO official, who then founded Québec’s largest mining company, provides a recent example.

In a 2012 Gold Report interview titled “First, Do Good When Mining for Gold: Benoit La Salle” the President of the Société d’Exploitation Minière d’Afrique de l’Ouest (SEMAFO) boasted about the company’s social responsibility. La Salle said: “SEMAFO is not a company that mines gold, ships it out and, once that is done, breaks down camp and leaves. People see SEMAFO as being a very good corporate citizen. Today, many people believe that the CSR report is more important than our annual report.”  This is a startling claim for an individual obligated to maximize investors’ returns but a cursory look at the company’s record suggests it has little basis in reality.

Those living near SEMAFO’s Kiniero mine, reported Guinée News in 2014, felt “the Canadian company brought more misfortune than benefits.” In 2008 the military killed three in a bid to drive away small-scale miners from its mine in southeast Guinea. BBC Monitoring Africa reported “the soldiers shot a woman at close range, burned a baby and in the panic another woman and her baby fell into a gold mining pit and a man fell fatally from his motor while running away from the rangers.”  Blaming the Montréal-based company for the killings, locals damaged its equipment.”

In September 2011 protests flared again over the company’s failure to hire local young people and the dissolution of a committee that spent community development monies. Demonstrators attacked SEMAFO’s facilities, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.  Some also targeted a bus carrying company employees, prompting the authorities to evacuate all expatriate staff to Bamako in neighbouring Mali.

In 2014 the Guinean government’s Comité Technique de Revue des Titres et Conventions Miniers concluded that the Montréal firm evaded $9.6 million in tax.  The Comité Technique also found that the company failed “to produce detailed feasibility studies” and was not “in compliance with new measures in the 2011 mining code.”  The Comité Technique recommended that SEMAFO be fined and stripped of its mining rights in the country.

To the east, SEMAFO opened the first industrial scale gold mine in Niger. A 2007 Montreal Gazette business article headlined “Local Miner a Major Force in Niger: It’s not every day we receive a press release from a gold mining company that includes a warm personal message from the prime minister”, reported on the close ties between SEMAFO and Hama Amadou, then Prime Minister of Niger. “We work very closely with him,” said La Salle. “We’re part of his budget every year.”

La Salle described how the prime minister helped his company break a strike at its Samira Hill mine in the west of the country. “He gave us all the right direction to solve this legally,” La Salle said. ‘We went to court, we had the strike declared illegal and that allowed us to let go of some of the employees and rehire some of them based upon a new work contract. It allowed us to let go of some undesirable employees because they had been on strike a few times.” (In mid-2008 SEMAFO’s preferred prime minister was arrested on corruption charges stemming from two unrelated incidents.)

The bitter strike led to a parliamentary inquiry regarding environmental damage caused by the mine, lack of benefits for local communities and treatment of miners. Opposition politicians accused SEMAFO of paying “slave wages”.  “The wages are very low,” explained Mohammed Bazoum, deputy chairman of Niger’s main opposition party in 2009.

SEMAFO was also accused of failing to pay both taxes and dividends to the government. Despite owning a 20% share in the Samira Hill mine, the government received no direct payments from the Montréal-based majority owner between 2004 and 2010. “Since this company started its activities, Niger has not seen a single franc despite its being a shareholder,” noted Abdoulkarim Mossi, head of a government committee set up to tackle economic and financial irregularities in the country.

Next-door, the company was close to President Blaise Compaoré who seized power in 1987 by killing Thomas Ankara, “Africa’s Che Guevara”, who oversaw important social and political gains during four years in office. La Salle worked closely with Compaoré for nearly 2 decades, traveling the globe singing the Burkina Faso government’s praise. After leaving office the Prime Minister between 2007–2011, Tertius Zongo, was appointed to SEMAFO’s Board of Directors and at a September 2014 Gold Forum in Australia SEMAFO officials lauded the government as “democratic and stable”.  The next month Compaoré was ousted by popular protest after he attempted to amend the constitution to extend term limits.

After ending Compaoré’s 27-year rule community groups and mine workers launched a wave of protests against foreign, mostly Canadian, owned mining companies. In a Bloomberg article titled “Revolt Rocks Burkina Faso’s Mines After President Flees”, SEMAFO’s director of corporate affairs, Laurent Michel Dabire, said the company was looking to fund a new police unit that would focus on protecting mining interests in the country.

SEMAFO is an outgrowth La Salle’s work for Plan Canada, part of a $1 billion a year global NGO. La Salle said that SEMAFO “was created in 1995 during my first visit to Burkina Faso as part of a mission with the NGO-Plan. I am the president of the administration council of Plan Canada and a director of Plan International. So, after the Plan organized visit to Burkina Faso provided me an opportunity to get close with national authorities, I decided to create SEMAFO to participate in the development of Burkina Faso’s mining industry.” As Plan Canada’s designated Francophone spokesperson, La Salle got to know Compaoré. “The president turned to me,” La Salle told another reporter, “and said that I should come back to his country with Canadian expertise to help his country develop its mining sector.”

La Salle procured mining expertise while Compaoré granted the Canadian a massive stretch of land to prospect. “The land package we have is way beyond what you’d see anywhere else in the world,” La Salle boasted.

Compaoré was good to La Salle. The Canadian ‘humanitarian” made millions of dollars from Burkina Faso’s (and Niger and Guinea’s) minerals. When he resigned after 17 years as president of SEMAFO in 2012, La Salle received a $3 million departure bonus, which was on top of his $1 million salary.

La Salle is just one in a long line of Westerners who’ve asked the world to believe what they say but ignore the actual results of what they do — a “spin-sploiter” — publicly professing humanitarian ideals all the while exploiting Africa.

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Canadian companies well known abroad for bribery

While most Canadians proudly recognize the beaver, the hockey player and the curling broom as symbols of this country, some of us would be made uncomfortable by another enduring emblem of the Great White North: a businessman wearing a maple leaf lapel pin discretely passing a plain manila envelope stuffed with cash to a foreign official.

Last week SNC-Lavalin agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle a corruption case brought against it by the African Development Bank. Accused of bribing officials in Uganda and Mozambique, the Montréal-based company also accepted a number of other non-monetary conditions on its operations to avoid being blacklisted from projects financed by the African Development Bank.

Over the past half-decade Canada’s biggest engineering company is alleged to have greased palms in LibyaAlgeriaTunisiaAngola, Nigeria, Mozambique, Ghana, Malawi, Uganda and Zambia as well as a number of Asian countries and Canada.

In Libya, the RCMP accused SNC of paying $50 million to Saadi Gadhafi, son of the late Libyan dictator, in exchange for a series of contracts. The company is also alleged to have defrauded $130 million from Libyan public agencies.

In a less high profile incident, the RCMP accused SNC of paying $6 million to the son-in-law of former Tunisian dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in exchange for assistance securing contracts.

In Angola, SNC allegedly paid millions of dollars to government officials in exchange for a hydro dam contract. Former SNC employee Joseph Salim sued the company for wrongful dismissal, claiming he was terminated after he blew the whistle on the illegal payments. Salim alleged that SNC’s former CEO, Jacques Lamarre, agreed to pay a 10 percent “agent fee” but company officials were unwilling to declare more than five percent on the books, which necessitated artificially increasing the price of the dam.

In northern Nigeria, SNC officials allegedly paid 1.2 million naira in cash — nearly five times the annual average Nigerian salary — to a government official responsible for a World Bank-funded water and sewer project. One company spreadsheet noted that money was “paid to Musa Tete [the Nigerian bureaucrat overseeing the World Bank-financed project] through Yaroson”, SNC’s Nigerian partner.

As allegations of SNC bribery began to seep out in 2012, the company continued to win billions of dollars in Canadian government contracts, maintained the backing of the Canadian Commercial Corporation and garnered support from Canadian diplomats abroad.

Canada has been quick to denounce corruption in Africa, but has lagged behind the rest of the G7 countries in criminalizing foreign bribery. For example, into the early 1990s, Canadian companies were at liberty to deduct bribes paid to foreign officials from their taxes, affording them an “advantage over the Americans” — they’re forbidden by law to pay out agents’ commissions, according to Bernard Lamarre, former head of Lavalin (now SNC-Lavalin).

In 1977, the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act outlawed bribes to foreign officials. Ottawa failed to follow suit until the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) launched its anti-bribery convention in 1997. The OECD convention obligated signatories to pass laws against bribing public officials abroad and two years later Canada complied, passing the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act (CFPOA).

Still, for the next decade Canadian officials did little to enforce the law. The RCMP waited until 2008 to create an International Anti-Corruption Unit and didn’t secure a significant conviction under the CFPOA until 2011.

Anti-corruption watchdogs have repeatedly criticized Ottawa’s lax approach. A March 2011 report from the OECD Working Group on Bribery criticized Canada’s framework for combating foreign corruption and Ottawa has fared poorly in Transparency International’s rankings. In 2013, Transparency International complained that between 2005 and 2011, Canada exercised “little to no enforcement of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.”

The group repeatedly ranked Canada the worst performer among G7 countries on this front.

Last week, Toronto-based Kinross Gold disclosed that the United States Department of Justice launched an investigation into “improper payments made to government officials and certain internal control deficiencies” at its operations in Ghana and Mauritania. In my new book Canada in Africa: 300 years of Aid and Exploitation I detail numerous reports of Canadian companies accused of bribing officials.

While the federal government recently strengthened anti-bribery legislation, Ottawa has so far largely turned a blind eye to corporations paying off public officials abroad.

Should bribery really be seen as “Canadian” as the RCMP’s Musical Ride?

Over the past half-decade Canada’s biggest engineering company is alleged to have greased palms in LibyaAlgeriaTunisiaAngola, Nigeria, Mozambique, Ghana, Malawi, Uganda and Zambia as well as a number of Asian countries and Canada.

This article first appeared in Huffington Post

 

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Canadian foreign policy is to promote corporate greed

Should the primary purpose of Canadian foreign policy be the promotion of corporate interests?

Canada’s business class certainly seems to think so. And with little political or ideological opposition to this naked self-interest, Harper’s Conservatives seem only too happy to put the full weight of government behind the promotion of private profits.

Recently, the Conservatives announced that “economic diplomacy” will be “the driving force behind the Government of Canada’s activities through its international diplomatic network.” According to their Global Markets Action Plan (GMAP), “All diplomatic assets of the Government of Canada will be marshalled on behalf of the private sector to increase success in doing business abroad.”

The release of GMAP is a crass confirmation of the Conservatives’ pro-corporate foreign policy. In recent years the Conservatives’ have spent tens of millions of dollars to lobby US and European officials on behalf of tar sands interests; expanded arms sales to Middle East monarchies and other leading human rights abusers; strengthened the ties between aid policy and a Canadian mining industry responsible for innumerable abuses.

While some commentators have suggested that GMAP is a “modern” response to China’s international policy, it actually represents a return to a time many consider the high point of unfettered capitalism. Often in the late 1800s wealthy individuals not employed by Ottawa conducted Canadian diplomacy. The owner of the Toronto Globe, George Brown, for instance, negotiated a draft treaty with the U.S. in 1874, while Sandford Fleming, the surveyor of the Canadian Pacific Railway, represented Canada at the 1887 Colonial Conference in London.

From its inception the Canadian foreign service reflected a bias towards economic concerns. There were trade commissioners, for instance, long before ambassadors. By 1907 there were 12 Canadian trade commissions staffed by “commercial agents” located in Sydney, Capetown, Mexico City, Yokohama and numerous European and U.S. cities.

Despite this historic precedent, in the 21st century it should be controversial for a government to openly state that economic considerations drive international policy. Yet criticism of GMAP has been fairly muted, which may reflect how many progressives feel overwhelmed by the Conservatives right-wing aggressiveness in every policy area.

Or perhaps there’s a more fundamental explanation. The mainstream political/media establishment basically agrees with the idea that corporate interests should dominate foreign policy.

In response to GMAP, Postmedia ran a debate between John Manley, head of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and a member of the advisory panel that helped draw up the Conservatives’ plan, and former foreign minister and leading proponent of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, Lloyd Axworthy. While Manley lauded the Conservatives’ move, Axworthy criticized it as “bad trade policy. The best way to enlarge your trade prospects and to develop a willingness for agreements and to improve economic exchange is to have a number of contacts to show other countries that you are a willing and co-operative player on matters of security, on matters of human rights, and on matters of development.”

Axworthy did not express principled criticism of the Conservatives’ move; he simply said that “trade prospects” — a euphemism for corporate interests — are best advanced through a multifaceted foreign-policy. Widely lauded by the liberal intelligentsia, Axworthy reflects the critical end of the dominant discussion, which largely takes its cues from the corporate class. And Canada’s business class is more internationally focused than any other G8 country.

Heavily dependent on “free trade” Canadian companies are also major global investors. The world’s largest privately owned security company, GardaWorld, has 45,000 employees operating across the globe while another Montréal-based company, SNC Lavalin, has engineering projects in 100 countries. Corporate Canada’s most powerful sector is also a global force. The big five banks, which all rank among the top 65 in the world, now do a majority of their business outside of this country. Scotiabank, for example, operates in 45 countries.

The mining sector provides the best example of Canadian capital’s international prominence. Three quarters of the world’s mining companies are based in Canada or listed on Canadian stock exchanges. Present in almost every country, Canadian corporations operate thousands of mineral projects abroad.

With $711.6 billion in foreign direct investments last year, Canadian companies push for (and benefit from) Ottawa’s diplomatic, aid and military support. As their international footprint has grown, they’ve put ever more pressure on the government to serve their interests. There is simply no countervailing force calling on the government to advance international climate negotiations, arms control measures or to place constraints on mining companies.

There’s also limited ideological opposition to neoliberalism. Few in Canada promote any alternative to capitalism. Until unions, social groups and activists put forward an alternative economic and social vision it’s hard to imagine that Canadian foreign policy will do much more than promote private corporate interests.

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