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COMMONWEALTH: Canada a Champion of … Everyone?

Mark Bourrie

OTTAWA, Nov 27 2003 (IPS) - Delegates to December’s Commonwealth summit can be forgiven if they are confused by Canada’s rhetoric as a free trade booster and by the country’s attempts to hold moral high ground as a champion of developing world issues, experts here say.

Delegates to December’s Commonwealth summit can be forgiven if they are confused by Canada’s rhetoric as a free trade booster and by the country’s attempts to hold moral high ground as a champion of developing world issues, experts here say.

The Canadian government has several teams of foreign affairs officials working on agendas that are opposed to each other, says Maude Barlow, chair of the Council of Canadians, an umbrella group of anti-free trade activists, Canadian nationalists and pro-equality groups.

"Most of the Canadian officials going to the Commonwealth conference believe in what they say: that there should be further aid for developing countries, help for countries dealing with epidemics, and third world debt reduction," she said in an interview.

"But, at the same time, Canada’s trade minister and the top people in the government go around advocating the economic globalisation agenda and trade liberalism, which keep medicine from people who need it and support policies that undermine the environment and the rights of workers," she added.

"Canada supports the service agreement at the WTO (World Trade Organisation) and the World Bank’s programme for the privatisation of water. It’s hard to see how Canadian officials can justify these policies while claiming to support the interests of the bulk of Commonwealth countries."


Canada is an active member of both the British Commonwealth, a loose organisation of the United Kingdom and its former colonies, and the Francophonie, the group of countries that were French colonies or have a sizeable French-speaking minority.

Ottawa helped push South Africa out of the Commonwealth in the 1960s and Canadian officials pressed this year’s summit host country, Nigeria, to rescind its invitation to Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe for his harsh treatment of the country’s political opposition.

"You see a very schizophrenic view of Canadian policy when you compare the actions of the foreign affairs people who attend conferences like this and U.N.-sponsored events to the actions of people pushing Canada’s trade agenda," said Barlow.

"The people at this type of conference mean well, but they are not driving government policy," she said.

Tony Clarke, head of the Ottawa-based Polaris Institute, a public policy research organisation, says Canadian trade policies prevent the North-South redistribution of wealth advocated by bodies like the Commonwealth.

"Most of the developing countries that are members of the Commonwealth took a strong stand against the ‘Singapore issues’ (including foreign investment and patent protection) at the WTO meetings in Cancun."

"The developed countries, like Canada, wanted to expand the powers of the WTO to set new rules on investment, competition, government procurement and competition policy," Clarke told IPS.

"Countries like Malaysia (another Commonwealth member) oppose the developed world on these issues, but Canada supported greater powers for the WTO," he added.

As well, says Clarke, Canada has not pressed hard enough to end the government subsidies that have driven down agricultural prices and prevented developed countries from exporting.

"Canada’s agricultural policies are a little better than those of the U.S. and the European Union, but they’ve still done a lot to drive down prices for the products of the developing world."

"I don’t know how Canadian officials will be able to justify these policies when they meet with their Commonwealth counterparts."

The Canadian contingent will be led by Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who will leave office just a week after the end of the Commonwealth summit.

"The new administration is top-heavy with backers of the WTO and the globalisation agenda," says Barlow. "I doubt very much they’ll be listening to what members of the Commonwealth have to say."

Chretien, who backed the NEPAD initiative for African debt relief and introduced a bill that would have given African nations access to relatively cheap HIV and AIDS drugs, is being replaced by his former finance minister, millionaire businessman Paul Martin.

Martin is on record supporting debt reduction for developing nations and has promised to pass the generic drug bill, but is believed by most NGOs to be a strong supporter of the WTO, the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, and other trade liberalisation initiatives.

 
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COMMONWEALTH: Canada a Champion of … Everyone?

Mark Bourrie

OTTAWA, Nov 27 2003 (IPS) - Delegates to December’s Commonwealth summit can be forgiven if they are confused by Canada’s rhetoric as a free trade booster and by the country’s attempts to hold moral high ground as a champion of developing world issues, experts here say.
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