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Canada hires firm to ship back garbage, will be done before end of June: McKenna

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Ottawa is spending more than $1 million to ship 2,000 tonnes of rotting garbage back to Canada from the Philippines, hoping to bring an end to the diplomatic war over waste before Canada Day.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Wednesday the government signed a contract for $1.14 million with the Canadian arm of French shipping giant Bollare Logistics, to prepare and ship 69 containers of Canadian trash that have sitting in the ports of Subic and Manila in the Philippines for up to six years.

“Canada values its deep and long-standing relationship with the Philippines and has been working closely with Filipino authorities to find a solution that is mutually acceptable,” she said in a statement.

McKenna said the waste must be treated to meet Canadian safety and health requirements, but an official with Environment Canada wouldn’t explain what those requirements entail or whether the waste is currently a hazard to the Philippines. A recent inspection of the containers by the Philippines found all but one of the containers was seaworthy. One container was infested by termites but could be safely moved as long as it was secured on a platform.

The 69 containers are the remainder from 103 shipped by a private Canadian company to the Philippines in 2013 and 2014 and labelled improperly as plastics for recycling.

The other 34 containers have already been dealt with in the Philippines, despite objections from local officials and environment groups. Those groups say the shipment was illegal under the Basel Convention, an international treaty Canada signed to prevent richer nations from dumping their garbage in unsuspecting developing countries.

McKenna anticipates the containers will all be back in Canada by the end of June and they will be disposed of properly within Canada before the end of the summer. Canada is trying to go after the company that shipped the waste but it has since gone out of business.

The Philippines, which has been demanding Canada remove the waste for nearly six years, recently set a May 15 deadline for having it removed, with President Rodrigo Duterte threatening to declare war otherwise (an official later said he just meant to convey how strongly he felt). When that deadline came and went with the garbage still sitting in the Philippines,  Duterte recalled his country’s ambassador and consuls general from Canada. On Wednesday he ordered his government to find a shipper to take care of the containers, with plans to leave them in Canadian waters.

Hours later, Canada announced a contract had been signed, although the document posted online suggests the deal was actually done May 17.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke to her counterpart in the Philippines, foreign secretary Teodoro Locsin, following Duterte’s decision to recall the Philippine ambassador. She said Wednesday Canada is very focused on bringing this matter to a conclusion.

“I think we have taken a big step with the announcement today and we are moving as quickly as we can, bearing in mind, you know, the need to take due care to get this resolved once and for all,” Freeland said at an event in Regina.

Duterte’s spokesman, Salvador Panelo, told a news conference in Manila Wednesday that Duterte was upset “about the inordinate delay of Canada in shipping back its containers of garbage,” adding “We are extremely disappointed with Canada’s neither-here-nor-there pronouncement on the matter.”

More than five years of talks between Canada and the Philippines to deal with the trash went nowhere until last month, when Duterte threatened war and said he would ship the garbage back to Canada himself.

“Eat it if you want to,” he declared.

Panelo said Wednesday the Philippines “must not be treated as trash by other foreign nations.”

“Obviously, Canada is not taking this issue nor our country seriously. The Filipino people are gravely insulted about Canada treating this country as a dumpsite,” Panelo said.

NDP MP Gord Johns said he is relieved Canada is finally doing what it should have done years ago. He said “it’s disgraceful” that Canada allowed the dispute to escalate to this point before acting.

He noted South Korea took just a few months to take garbage back when it accidentally sent containers of trash to the Philippines, and Canada should have done the same.

—with files from The Associated Press

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press






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Lighthizer agrees to do whatever it takes to get new NAFTA passed

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OTTAWA — Two days before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s arrival at the Oval Office, U.S. trade czar Robert Lighthizer has pledged to work with Democrats to do whatever it takes to ratify the new North American free trade deal.

Lighthizer made the comments in testimony Tuesday before the U.S. Senate finance committee as part of the Trump administration’s push to get the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement ratified by a divided Congress.

Lighthizer’s appearance on Capitol Hill comes as Trudeau prepares to meet President Donald Trump at the White House on Thursday to give impetus towards ratifying the deal. The leaders of Canada, the United States and Mexico signed the agreement last fall, but the election clocks in all three countries are ticking loudly towards looming political deadlines.

Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said the new deal has “weak enforcement” provisions on raising labour standards in Mexico that he and his party want to fix.

Lighthizer said the USMCA has stronger enforcement provisions than the old North American Free Trade Agreement, including improved labour rights in Mexico, but he’s open to making it stronger.

Mexico has passed a sweeping labour reform bill that raises wages and gives unions more power, changes that Canada and the U.S. both pushed for during NAFTA renegotiation, which were acrimonious at times.

The Trudeau government has said it is pleased with the Mexican reforms, but some U.S. Democrats say more needs to be done to prevent jobs, particularly in the auto sector, from continuing to move to Mexico where wages have been historically much lower.

Wyden said he and fellow Democrats want the labour provisions to have an enforcement mechanism with “real teeth.” Along with Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, Wyden said the two Democrats are proposing a co-operative approach that would provide Mexico with resources and technical assistance to enforce the labour provisions.

“For those of us who really want to see a new day in terms of tough trade enforcement, will you commit to working with members of Congress to do whatever it takes – I want to emphasize, whatever it takes – to address these core concerns, so that we can say we turned the page and now finally we have trade enforcement with teeth in it?” Wyden asked Lighthizer.

“Yes,” Lighthizer replied.

“All right,” Wyden said, “I’ll quit while I’m ahead.”

In later testimony, Lighthizer said he was not endorsing the Wyden-Brown plan — or any other — but throughout his two-hour-plus appearance, he made clear he wants to work constructively across his country’s partisan divide to get the USMCA approved.

He offered what amounted to a gracious account of his dealings with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who holds the key to getting any ratification bill introduced in the lower house of Congress — the necessary first step towards final U.S. legal approval of the pact.

Trump has called Pelosi “Crazy Nancy” and recently said Democratic delays in Congress were in part because she can’t understand the complicated deal.

“The speaker (Pelosi) has been completely fair and above board and, I think, constructive,” Lighthizer said.

“I believe we’re on track. I think we’re making progress, and I’m hopeful on that score. And the speaker has been absolutely, as far as I’m concerned, exactly as you would hope she would be.”

Some Canadian business leaders are urging Trudeau to meet with Pelosi because she essentially holds the cards in the getting a ratification bill introduced on the floor of the House.

Trudeau introduced Canada’s ratification bill last month and it is winding its way through the House of Commons, which is due to adjourn by Friday for the last time before the October federal election. It is possible for the government to recall MPs in the summer to deal with ratification. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland was non-committal about that option during her own visit to Washington last week, which included a meeting with Lighthizer.

Freeland reiterated the government’s position that it wants to move towards ratification “in tandem” as much as possible with the U.S., but said the Liberals were also taking a “Goldilocks” approach that entailed not wanting to move too fast, or too slow.

Trudeau’s face-to-face meeting with Trump in the Oval Office is being billed as an opportunity to highlight the importance of moving forward with the new trade deal.

Congress faces its own summer deadline as it heads towards an August recess. After that, many observers question whether U.S. lawmakers will be able to move forward with the marathon campaign for the 2020 presidential election all but under way by then.

The Mexican Senate, meanwhile, is poised to ratify the new agreement in the coming days. It is considering the bill in a special session after it was due to adjourn earlier this spring.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press


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Lighthizer agrees to do whatever it takes to get new NAFTA passed

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OTTAWA — U.S. trade czar Robert Lighthizer says he will work with Democrats to do whatever it takes to ratify the new North American free trade deal.

Lighthizer made the pledge in testimony today before the U.S. Senate finance committee as part of the Trump administration’s push to get the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement ratified by a divided Congress.

Lighthizer’s appearance on Capitol Hill comes two days before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets President Donald Trump at the White House to give impetus towards ratifying the deal.

Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the ranking Democrat on the committee, says the new deal has “weak enforcement” provisions on raising labour standards in Mexico that he and his party want to fix.

Lighthizer says USMCA has stronger enforcement provisions than the old North American Free Trade Agreement, including improved labour rights in Mexico, but he’s open to making it stronger.

Lighthizer says he has had good discussions with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and suggests that getting a ratification bill introduced in the lower house of Congress — a necessary first step towards U.S. ratification of the pact — might be weeks away.

The Canadian Press

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