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.
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.