By Yves Engler
On Sunday a demonstration is planned in Montréal against the Canada Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA). Under the banner “Against Israel’s annexation of the Jordan Valley. No to the Canada Israel Free Trade Agreement!”, the march is seeking to politicize CIFTA amidst Israel’s plan to formally annex parts of the West Bank.
The march follows an open letter released last month by over 100 Montréal artists and activists calling for the cancellation of CIFTA.
Signed in 1997, CIFTA was Canada’s fourth free trade agreement and first outside the Western hemisphere (US, NAFTA and Chile). In an implicit recognition of the occupation, the free trade agreement includes the West Bank as a place where Israel’s custom laws are applied. Canada’s trade agreement is based on the areas Israel maintains territorial control over, not on internationally recognized borders. The European Union’s trade agreement with Israel, on the other hand, explicitly excludes products from territory Israel captured in the 1967 war and occupies against international law.
The Liberals “modernized” Canada’s FTA with Israel. International trade minister Jim Carr boasted the new accord “strengthens bilateral ties between Canada and Israel.” Liberal MPs on Parliament’s Standing Committee on International Trade rejected an NDP amendment to the trade accord’s legislation stipulating its implementation “shall be based on respect for human rights and international law.” They also rejected an NDP amendment to the deal that would have required distinct labels on products originating from “Palestinian territory that has been illegally occupied since 1967.”
In July 2019 Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi wrote, “the Palestinian leadership calls on the Canadian government to act in accordance with Canadian and international laws and amend, without delay, the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act (Bill C-85), which affords products originating from illegal Israeli settlements tariff free status, in flagrant violation of Canada’s obligations under international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention, and United Nations Security Council resolutions, including resolution 2334 (2016).”
In July 2017 the federal government said its FTA with Israel trumped Canada’s Food and Drugs Act after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency called for accurate labeling of wines produced in the occupied West Bank. After David Kattenburg repeatedly complained about inaccurate labels on two wines sold in Ontario, the CFIA notified the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) that it “would not be acceptable and would be considered misleading” to declare wines produced in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as “products of Israel”. Quoting from longstanding 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, the government announced that it was all a mistake made by a low-level CFIA official and that the Canada-Israel FTA governed the labeling of such wine, not CFIA rules. “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 labeled.”
In other words, the government publicly proclaimed that the FTA trumps Canada’s consumer protections. But, this was little more than a pretext to avoid a conflict with B’nai B’rith, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs 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 wrote. “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 labeled as such. There is nothing in the CIFTA 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.”
If the Canadian government does indeed support a rules-based international order as Prime Minister Trudeau has proclaimed then the Canada Israel Free Trade Agreement should be scrapped.
– Yves Engler is the author of Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid and a number of other books. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle. Visit his website: yvesengler.com