Ukraine, Canada, Free Trade and asbestos

Sat, Nov 18, 2017

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Kathleen Ruff, RightOnCanada.ca

The Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement (CUFTA) came into effect on August 1, 2017. It promotes and gives preferential treatment to trade between the two countries by removing tariffs and trade barriers. Among the products listed in the Agreement are asbestos brake linings, asbestos friction materials, asbestos-cement tiles and asbestos joints.

This completely contradicts the policy announced by the Trudeau government in December 2016 to ban the import of asbestos and asbestos-containing products into Canada by 2018.

A spokesperson for Canada’s Minister of Environment & Climate Change (the Minister responsible for implementing the asbestos ban) told a Quebec newspaper that preferential access to the Canadian market provided by the free trade agreement is without prejudice to the right of Canada to restrict trade in certain products. “In all free trade agreements, the Canadian government retains the ability to regulate in the public interest, including the area of public health and the environment,” stated Marie-Pascale Desrosiers (translation).

This statement is not, however, true. In reality, over and over again, Canada has been sued under free trade agreements for passing regulations to protect health and the environment.

CUFTA does not apparently include an Investor State Dispute Settlement provision (ISDS), which has been included in other free trade agreements, such as the North America Free Trade Agreement, and which allows corporations to sue governments in order to strike down health and environmental regulations that impede corporate profits. However, there is a 1995 Canada-Ukraine Foreign Investment Projection Agreement that includes an ISDS provision, so conceivably an asbestos investor could bring a case under that.

In addition, under CUFTA the government of Ukraine can challenge regulations passed by Canada that ban the import of asbestos products on the basis of asbestos being protected under CUFTA. It is ironic that when France moved to ban asbestos, the Canadian government did exactly this: it used rules in a trade agreement to try to strike down the ban. Canada filed a case against France at the World Trade Organization (WTO), arguing that action by France to ban asbestos would violate France’s obligations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. For the first time in its history, the WTO used the public health exception in the Agreement to rule that France’s decision to ban asbestos was justified as a legitimate justification for restricting international trade.

Presumably, the fact that the WTO in 2001 dismissed Canada’s legal challenge of the right of a country to ban asbestos would be a deterrent to Ukraine filing a similar legal challenge against Canada’s decision to ban asbestos.

It is, however, utterly wrong and offensive that asbestos is included in CUFTA. The Agreement was negotiated by the previous Conservative government of Stephen Harper, who wanted to increase Canada’s asbestos trade. However, the Trudeau government has been in power for two years. It has taken no action to remove asbestos from CUFTA and has refused to answer the question of whether it intends to do so.

Asbestos lobby crushes Ukraine’s asbestos ban

The inclusion of asbestos in CUFTA is particularly disturbing in light of the fact that the asbestos lobby has, it seems, just succeeded in killing Ukraine’s announced ban on asbestos.

On June 26, 2017, Ukraine’s Ministry of Health held a press briefing to announce that Ukraine had banned asbestos and the ban would come fully into effect in six months time.  This decision had been published on June 9, 2017 in Ukraine’s State Register of regulatory legal acts. However, due to political pressure exerted by asbestos interests, the regulations to ban asbestos were removed from Ukraine’s State Register on October 10, 2017.

The asbestos industry is ruthless and determined to use any devious method to kill democratic initiatives by countries seeking to protect the health of their citizens and ban asbestos. In countries where government health authorities have announced a ban on asbestos or have called for such a ban, the asbestos lobby has exerted undercover political and economic pressure to crush these initiatives.

In addition to Ukraine:

  • In 1989, the United States Environmental Protection Agency issued the Asbestos Ban and Phase-Out Rule (ABPR). The asbestos lobby, with the support of the Canadian government, succeeded in getting the ban struck down.
  • Malaysia government health authorities announced in 2012 that the country was banning asbestos. The asbestos lobby has apparently succeeded in killing the ban.
  • Thailand in 2011 and 2014 announced that it was banning asbestos. The asbestos lobby has apparently succeeded in killing the ban.
  • Sri Lanka announced in 2015 that it was banning asbestos by 2018. The asbestos lobby is trying to kill the ban.
  • Vietnam announced that it was banning asbestos. The asbestos lobby is trying to kill the ban.
  • Occupational health authorities in Brazil have called for a national ban on asbestos. The asbestos lobby is trying to obstruct and prevent a ban.

The asbestos industry and those who make profits from it are fighting desperately, using behind-the-scenes pressure and influence, to subvert democracy, deny scientific evidence and destroy human lives in order to continue profiteering from a deadly product.

Their sales are declining. Despite all the lies and dirty tactics of the asbestos profiteers, more and more countries are stopping or vastly reducing import of asbestos. Asbestos interests are spending millions of dollars on spies, on lobbying efforts and on scientists, who are financially enriched but ethically impoverished.

But the fight for truth and justice will win. The asbestos industry will be defeated and the sooner the better.

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