Members of Parliament are debating legislation to update the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement. But it’s not all going smoothly. The NDP and Bloc Québecois are demanding an end to the mislabeling of Israeli settlement goods as “Product of Israel.” Meanwhile, a Canadian citizen’s case alleging improper labelling of Israeli settlement wines has reached the Federal Court of Canada. Will they succeed? Read more…
Guest column by Grafton Ross
The Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA), Canada’s first free trade agreement outside of the Western Hemisphere, which into effect in 1997, is being debated in Parliament. (CIFTA is actually more of a political agreement than an economic one. Canada-Israel annual trade totals less than $2 billion. By comparison, by noon on January 1 2018, we had already traded more with the USA than we would do during all of the year with Israel.)
But negotiations aimed at modernizing CIFTA, begun under the Harper administration, have now been completed by the Trudeau government. According to Global Affairs Canada, the new CIFTA will reduce Israeli tariffs on Canadian agricultural and fisheries products, and will include “new progressive elements on gender, small and medium-sized enterprises and corporate social responsibility, as well as labour and environmental protections.” (No mention however, of human rights.)
The government has now presented the revised agreement to Parliament for ratification, in the form of Bill C-85: “An Act to amend the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act and to make related amendments to other Acts.”
But instead of a multi-partisan easy ride for the Bill, opposition MPs are raising objections. In the past, some parties and individual MPs have defended sharp criticism of Israel on free-speech grounds, while at the same time rejecting the merits of the demands themselves. This time, however, the NDP and Bloc Québecois are advancing substantive arguments based on international and Canadian law and Canada’s official policy positions.
“the fundamental problem with this bill, though, is that it still fails to distinguish between products and services that are made on the West Bank, that are made in occupied territories. If those products and services are permitted to be passed off as products and services from the State of Israel, then what we are doing is we are violating our own Canadian policy, which is that we do not recognize the occupation of those lands to be legitimate.”
-Don Davies, NDP MP
Over a year ago, Green Party leader Elizabeth May declared that “Canada shouldn’t be granting preferential treatment to products made in settlements that are in clear violation of international law.” Now the international trade critics for the NDP and the Bloc Québecois, Tracey Ramsey and Gabriel Ste-Marie, as well as NDP MPs Richard Cannings and Don Davies, are all demanding that the amended CIFTA legislation require labelling of Israeli settlement products.
In the end, the government was forced to serve notice of closure on debate.
The CIFTA debate has drawn the attention of advocacy groups on both sides. Six months ago, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) boasted that “This agreement is the culmination of work started by the previous government and continued by the current government demonstrating once again how the Canada-Israel friendship transcends politics and is valued and supported by all parties over many years.”
On the other side, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) is calling on the government to amend the Bill, declaring that “Canadians expect their government to implement trade deals that are in line with Canadian foreign policy and commitments to human rights and international law.” That three federal parties have now taken up the call challenges CIJA’s breezy declaration.
Bill C-85 has now gone to the Standing Committee on International Trade (CIIT) for review. The committee has not yet scheduled a meeting on the Bill, so the timing and nature of its deliberations (eg. Will they invite witnesses to testify?) remain unknown.
Will the committee recommend amending Bill C-85 to include labelling of Israeli settlement products? Seems unlikely, given that 9 of its 10 voting members are Liberals or Conservatives. But MPs do count the letters and emails they receive, both for and against, regarding the issues they are considering. CIIT Chair is Liberal MP Mark Eyking (email@example.com). Committee co-chairs are Conservative MP Dean Allison (firstname.lastname@example.org) and NDP MP Tracey Ramsey (email@example.com), the international trade critics for their respective parties.
A legal challenge too
While the House debates these questions, Canada’s judicial branch is also addressing the labelling issue.
A 2017 complaint by David Kattenburg to the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) regarding two Israeli settlement wines improperly labelled “Product of Israel” has reached a significant new stage.
In July 2017, the Canada Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), which regulates consumer packaging and labelling, initially ruled in Kattenburg’s favour, then suddenly reversed its decision after it had been made public. Kattenburg’s attorney has now submitted a judicial review application in the Federal Court of Canada and filed a supporting Memorandum of Fact and Law.
Included are copies of correspondence between CFIA officials during the crucial hours between CFIA’s initial decision being made public and its reversal, obtained as part of the judicial process. A hearing is scheduled for May 2019.
Last year, Canada Talks Israel-Palestine predicted that B’nai Brith Canada’s intervention to have the CFIA ruling reversed would have unintended consequences. Fast forward to the present: 1) Three federal parties – NDP, Green and Bloc Québecois – are now openly calling for Israeli settlement product labelling; and 2) Canada’s second-highest court will now consider an appeal to not only rule on labelling settlement products, but also examine what caused the CFIA to suddenly reverse its initial labelling order.
To be continued…
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Often, positive wording is psychologically more acceptable to people than negative wording. Instead of excluding occupied territory or “settlements”, the treaty should be explicit in defining the goods that it covers. It should state that it applies to goods manufactured within the internationally recognized borders of the State of Israel. Though neither is mentioned in this wording, it would exclude goods manufactured in Jerusalem as well as the West Bank settlements.
Indeed. Clear, positive wording is a feature of all of Canada’s free trade agreements, where the territory of each country is defined as: “The territory to which its customs laws apply, including any areas beyond the territorial seas of [each country] within which, in accordance with international law and its domestic law, [each country] may exercise rights with respect to the seabed and subsoil and their natural resources.”
Israel is the sole exception. Under CIFTA, the territory of Israel is defined simply as “the territory where its customs laws are applied.” This wording elides the fact that Israel’s customs laws are also applied in the occupied Palestinian territories, and crucially omits any reference to international law.
Great summation of this political fight to make and confirm Canada’s recognition of the Israeli occupation of Palestine (as defined by green line before 1967) including the illegality of settlements compatible with the revised CIFTA. How are goods made by Paleatinians in occupied Palestine labelled now, since these goods also pass through Israeli trade and customs authorities? Regardless of the outcome Canada should make it clear that Canada will conclude a trade agreement with Palestine as soon as it is practical to do so as part of its policy of a free trade and a 2 state soln of Israel and Palestine in which case all goods made in Palestine whether by Jews or Arabs coming to Canada will be labelled: “MADE IN PALESTINE.”
Thank you, Grafton. I’ve already sent a letter to the Committee.
My family back in Israel (near Nazareth)is reliant on Avucado and Almonds export , most of our crops are for export and we face an unfair competition (mostly for our almonds) from West Bank farmers, they have subsidies from the ministry of agriculture (the minister is a settler, not a farmer ) they gave access to cheap labour and they have priority in access to the national airline freight company.
We should be should be the ones on the barikades fighting them, but we are not.
This is because we know that for the BDS they are just the easiest picking and once the BDS is done with them we will be the next target.
So we are circling the wagons.
Israeli farmers , both Jews and Arabs, are stuck between a rock and a hard place
Hey Ahik, I’m interested in those West Bank farmers you say get subsidies from the Israeli government. Are they Palestinian farmers? Or Israeli? Who gets the subsidy?
On your second point, I think you are right about BDS. It actually is aimed at ALL Israeli products until the 3 demands are met. The labelling issue is directed only at West Bank products which many think are the “most exposed”. But that is the thin edge of the wedge.
Good article Grafton. I plan to send a letter to the Committee members today.
Very interesting that the government of Justin, which has called on China, the US, Mexico, the EU et/al to adopt human rights language into FT deals since he took office three years ago, has yet to insist on those principals being applied to the Israeli deal.
This is the oh so familiar trap Canada continues to stumble into by cozying up to certain political agendas whether they be Israeli, American or others who arrive at talks burdened with their own bags of ugly while expecting everyone to just look the other way lest unpleasantries expose the elephant in the room.
This seems especially weird as we watch as Trudeau and his government direct their wrath at the Saudis for their myopic, me-first agendas.
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