For Immediate Release by Troy Hunter
6 October 2015 – Greater Vancouver. The recent signing of the Pacific Rim, Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) in Atlanta, Georgia by a dozen countries, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the US and Vietnam is the beginning of a new deal and when ratified by the participating nation states, it will be the beginning of a new era.
This trade deal opens up markets to close to two-thirds of a billion people, which is just under 9 percent of the current world's population but is considered to be the world's largest free-trade zone because it spans a number of Pacific nation states in the Americas and Asia and accounts for a whopping 40 percent of economic output globally. The total aggregate gross domestic product of the TPP is valued to be around twenty and a half trillion dollars on an annual basis. For anybody with products that they have for the market place, that is a massive pool of potential customers but it goes beyond just selling products.
Of special concern to Aboriginal people in Canada is that there are a couple of areas under the Cross-Border Trade in Services Chapter that deals with natural resource governance, regulation, control, extraction, etc. and also giving Canada the flexibility to maintain or adopt new measures concerning rights or preferences provided to Aboriginal people and minority groups.
Maintaining current rights have much to do with how things are done in Canada that concern Aboriginal people. It would seem that the TPP has built within it, some good news for Aboriginal people in Canada that some foreign companies will not immediately gain access to the natural resources in the territories and lands of Aboriginal peoples, without consultation, accommodation, etc. It also means that law makers can continue to develop policy, utilizing existing legislation such as the Employment Equity Act, the Canadian Human Rights Act, and/or ameliorative measures under section 15(2) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, where there are ways and means for the creation of special programs or ameliorative measures to accommodate the levelling of the playing field for Aboriginal people whom have typically been left out of the general economic development of land and natural resources.
Another very interesting aspect of the TPP is that Canada can adopt new measures that concern the rights or to provide preferential treatment for Aboriginal and minority groups. This is the kind of excellent forethought that is required if Canada is going to seriously breathe life into implementing legislation for the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), particularly as it relates to Article 21 of the declaration where it is called upon for nation states such as Canada to make special measures to ensure continuing improvement of aboriginal peoples' economic and social conditions based on natural resources from their lands, etc..
What those special or new measures are, have yet to be carved out but at least, there is a blank slate that has been set aside to do so by making room in the TPP for what is essentially, reconciliation.
On September 10, British Columbia Premier, Christy Clark addressed the Aboriginal leaders of British Columbia and said, “The future of reconciliation is premised on the understanding that reconciliation means a shared vision of the future, one that First Nations will shape for themselves; a First Nations economy that is shaped by First Nations; First Nations communities that are shaped by First Nations; and we can't do that if our path to reconciliation isn't one that we shape together.” With the language in the
TPP to be inclusive of things such as determining how Canada as a country develops its natural resources or the allowance of new measures to ameliorate a couple of centuries worth of colonization on Aboriginal lands, the Premier's statement on reconciliation and the Commitment Document they reached that day on a government-to-government relationship to reconcile continues to be available, even under the TPP.
BC's Minister of International Trade, Teresa Wat commented in respect of the TPP by stating, “As Canada's Pacific Gateway, B.C. stands to gain from increased trade in goods and services with TPP markets. The TPP also represents an opportunity for B.C. to position itself as an economic gateway between Asia and the Americas”. Aboriginal people have often not been able to benefit from resources of the land or for that matter, international trade due to lack of access to capital, resources, racism, colonization, etc.
Now that the stage is set for something new, or at least new measures for economic development, and reconciliation as shaped by aboriginal peoples, it's time to roll up the sleeves and determine what those special new measures are, how and when they will be implemented, etc.
There have been some indication that Aboriginal people are designing the path to reconciliation, for example recently in the news, there is discussion about the creation of an oil pipeline proposed by Eagle Spirit Energy Holding Ltd., bringing to international markets, oil exports from Alberta's oil sands that has the backing of various First Nations as it compensates them fairly through equity ownership, revenue generation, business, employment, education, training, capacity building, and promoting economic self-sufficiency. That is only one example of the kinds of projects that could be achieved under special measures to give aboriginal people a helping hand up, not a handout.
The negotiations for the TPP have been shrouded in secrecy yet there have been plenty of folks in provincial and federal government offices involved. It's been said that there were over 600 advisors in the business industry and lots of speculation about high-financed corporations lobbying governments to ensure they have the best deal for them. First Nations can at least breathe a sigh of relief that this massive international trade deal will be able to benefit them as well, but only if the playing field is levelled through new special measures that would support as much as possible ameliorative measures for Aboriginal people to gain some foothold advantage and to be able to participate in the job creation and economic development that TPP promises.
Troy Hunter is an Aboriginal lawyer with Sea to Sky Law Corp. in Greater Vancouver.