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 (firstname.lastname@example.org). Committee co-chairs are Conservative MP Dean Allison (email@example.com) and NDP MP Tracey Ramsey (firstname.lastname@example.org), 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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