QJ Politics: Canada-China deal

On Oct. 1, Prime Minister Stephen Harper signed a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) with China. It allows businesses in both countries to invest with more ease within each other’s borders.

A few weeks later, President Barack Obama signed his own bilateral agreement with China. This one, however, regards a maximum capacity and a reduction put on greenhouse gas emissions. This agreement is seen by many as a monumental step in the right direction between the two largest polluters in the international community.

The Chinese economy, like many others, relies on various polluting industries in order to produce and sell goods. This is nothing new; it has been a fact for years that pollution comes as a negative side effect in a growing economy. Governments have slowly and reluctantly introduced environmental protection policies, which businesses often see as impediments to profit.

While the environment is mentioned in the Canada-China FIPA agreement, which is available to view on the Canadian goverment website, the wording of the sections regarding environmental protection is so weak that it realistically does nothing to protect businesses from setting up harmful industries.

Critics have continually warned of the dangers such FIPAs could have in the long run.

Chinese companies could potentially set-up environmentally harmful industries in Canada, without having to follow any strict regulation or policy. The same also goes for Canadian companies in China.

Rather than taking a stance that pressures China to reduce its emissions, Canada has become a partner in helping increase these emissions. This works against the foundations of any environmental global movement, such as the one that Obama has been taking steps towards.

With the Canada-China FIPA, both countries can use the agreement as a scapegoat for pollution caused by the other’s investors, in saying that there’s nothing they can do about it because of the agreement’s protection.

On top of all this, the Canada-China FIPA is locked in for a minimum of 31 years and little debate took place in the Parliament before signing it.

Possible solutions do exist, but are far from reality. The first would be for Harper to make a second agreement with China which protects the environment from investors.

But this is far too idealistic. It would drive away investors and would be seen as an extremely unpopular move by economists.

A better solution is for a change in how we measure a society’s well-being. GDP can’t continue to mean everything for a society’s ability to move forward.

In order to achieve this solution, there must be a change in the global mindset. Bilateral agreements such as the one between China and the United States are the first steps towards such a goal. Harper’s recent agreement with China only hinders this progress.

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