Wa­ter wealth

Cape Breton Post - - Editorial -

Last week, it was the North Amer­i­can Free Trade (NAFTA) deal on U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s chop­ping block. Word was that he was pre­par­ing an ex­ec­u­tive or­der mak­ing the first steps to get out of the deal – an ef­fort he re­port­edly stopped ei­ther af­ter hear­ing from Mex­ico and Canada, or af­ter hav­ing the dam­age to U.S. in­ter­ests ex­plained to him in sim­ple terms.

The re­sult?

Well, in Trump’s view at least, it was that Canada and Mex­ico es­sen­tially asked for a rene­go­ti­a­tion of the trade pact, some­thing that was part of Trump’s agenda dur­ing the elec­tion. (As with any­thing out of the White House now, there are scores of of­ten-con­tra­dic­tory ver­sions, and it’s hard to dis­cern whether one ver­sion is the truth, a pre­var­i­ca­tion or an out­right lie.)

But if we are – as it seems – cruis­ing to­wards rene­go­ti­a­tion, let’s hope one thing stays well off the ta­ble, ex­cept in the drink­ing glasses of the ne­go­tia­tors them­selves.

And that’s wa­ter. Bulk sales of wa­ter, that is. When it comes to the busi­ness of H2O, we al­ready live in a strange world where multi­na­tion­als buy pris­tine, pure wa­ter for sig­nif­i­cantly less than pen­nies a bot­tle and sell it for an amaz­ing amount more. In On­tario, for ex­am­ple, the gov­ern­ment is think­ing of in­creas­ing the amount it charges com­pa­nies to har­vest ground­wa­ter – the province charges a pa­thetic $3.71 for ev­ery mil­lion litres of wa­ter pumped out of the ground. At $503.71 per mil­lion litres, the charge will be a tiny por­tion of the cost of your bot­tled wa­ter.

But back to NAFTA.

One of the con­cerns about NAFTA has been the ques­tion of bulk wa­ter sales – we are blessed with plenty of wa­ter in this coun­try, and there are more than a few en­trepreneurs who have looked at that wa­ter and won­dered if it couldn’t com­mand a hefty price tag, es­pe­cially in wa­ter-poor ar­eas south of the bor­der. (In some parts of the U.S., wa­ter is be­ing pumped from un­der­ground aquifers eight times faster than the aquifers can nat­u­rally re­plen­ish them­selves.)

The prob­lem with the NAFTA ar­range­ment is that wa­ter in lakes and aquifers is not in it­self a com­mod­ity. But once we al­low the sale of bulk wa­ter, the rules for the trans-bor­der sale of com­modi­ties come into place. Many sug­gest that, once the taps are on, they can’t be shut off – that in­ter­fer­ing with an es­tab­lished bulk wa­ter sales sys­tem would be con­sid­ered an un­rea­son­able in­ter­fer­ence in trade un­der NAFTA.

We have 20 per cent of the world’s fresh wa­ter, but many ar­gue that wa­ter will be the next great bat­tle­field, as coun­tries closer to the equa­tor see sup­plies dry up.

If we end up back at the NAFTA ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble, let’s not get suck­ered into sell­ing off one of our great­est as­sets. A new deal’s not worth that price.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.