Bottled water is pictured in North Vancouver, B.C., Tuesday, May 7, 2019. Canada’s proposed ban on single-use plastics may not run afoul of its trade deal with the United States and Mexico, but experts suggest it disregards the “pause-and-check” spirit of the agreement. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Unilateral ban on single-use plastics ignores spirit of USMCA, critics, experts say

The issue has extra focus due to the upcoming U.S. election

Canada’s proposed ban on single-use plastics may not run afoul of its trade deal with the United States and Mexico, but experts suggest it disregards the “pause-and-check” spirit of the agreement.

The Washington-based Plastics Industry Association added its voice this week to a chorus of complaints about the proposal, which would classify certain manufactured plastic items, including straws and carry-out bags, as “toxic substances” under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

“By designating plastics as ‘toxic,’ the Canadian government is recklessly making policy that could have significant negative impacts on human health,” association president Tony Radoszewski said in a statement.

“Simply put, the single-use plastic items we use every day are not toxic, but in fact are life-saving.”

The association echoed concerns raised last month by the U.S.-based Vinyl Institute that the proposal could “undermine” the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which took effect in July.

Trade lawyers and Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson were quick to disagree Wednesday when the proposal was unveiled.

“I think those concerns that are being expressed are simply wrong,” Wilkinson said.

“This proposal is really focused on ensuring that all products, whether they’re manufactured here or elsewhere, are treated in the same way. I do not see a trade concern.”

The agreement that replaced NAFTA, known as the USMCA in the U.S. and CUSMA in Canada, includes standard exceptions for “environmental measures necessary to protect human, animal, or plant life or health,” and “measures relating to the conservation of living and non-living exhaustible natural resources.”

However, it also reflects a spirit of mutual co-operation that argues for consulting one’s partners before imposing new restrictions, said Dan Ujczo, a trade lawyer in Ohio who specializes in Canada-U. S. matters.

“This is a tough case to make under USMCA because (of) the health, safety and environmental exceptions,” Ujczo said.

READ MORE: Straws, stir sticks and bags among first targets of countrywide plastics ban

But Chapter 12 of the deal includes commitments, “at least in spirit,” that oblige the three partners to “pause and check with the other” when planning measures affecting a range of materials, including chemicals and plastics, he added.

It’s reflective of the efforts Canada and the U.S. began in 2011 under the Regulatory Co-operation Council, which was aimed at aligning rules and safety standards for identical products on opposite sides of the border.

“What we’re trying to get to in Canada-U. S. is what every two-parent household learns very early on in their child’s life,” said Ujczo.

“Before you say ‘Yes,’ you check with the other parent to see, because usually the kids know how to play one off the other.”

Canada takes its obligations under the USMCA “very seriously,” said Youmy Han, press secretary for International Trade Minister Mary Ng.

“Our work to ban single use plastics will respect all our commitments in the new NAFTA,” Han said in a statement.

“As per our government’s approach to trade, the new NAFTA in no way prevents Canada from taking strong action to protect the environment.”

The Vinyl Institute’s complaint, which predated Wednesday’s announcement by several weeks and was based on Liberal government campaign promises, was also included in a Sept. 11 letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

A spokesperson for the Plastics Industry Association would not say whether Radoszewski raised the matter with Lighthizer. The USTR did not respond to media queries.

In the Trump era, the political landscape always plays a role. With less than a month to go before the U.S. election, there is striking alignment between the plastics industry and the president’s electoral interests.

Outside of solidly Democratic California, the list of states with the largest number of Americans who work in plastics reads like turn-by-turn directions to the White House: Ohio, Texas, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

That said, Ujczo ⏤ describing the Great Lakes region as a global hub for polymers, plastics and chemicals ⏤ said there’s not likely much traction in places like Ohio for any action before voters head to in-person polls next month.

“The concern is not the measure itself. It’s the timing and tempo of it,” he said.

“As much as it’s true that this is an issue here, it’s not going to resonate. There’s no oxygen for an issue like this leading up to Nov. 3.”

James McCarten, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Plastic Bag Ban

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cpl. Nathan Berze, media officer for the Mission RCMP, giving an update on the investigation at 11:30 a.m., Oct. 30. Patrick Penner photo.
VIDEO: Prisoner convicted of first-degree murder still at large from Mission Institution, could be in U.S.

When 10 p.m. count was conducted, staff discovered Roderick Muchikekwanape had disappeared

web
Mission’s first cannabis store to open doors next week

Government-run BC Cannabis Store to open Nov. 4 at 31956 Lougheed Highway

The City of Chilliwack says there’s too much spitting going on at the Sardis Sports Complex. (City of Chilliwack photo)
Too much spitting a problem at Chilliwack’s Sardis Sports Complex

The City of Chilliwack is asking the minor hockey community to ease up on expectorating

Record-low returns of salmon have been recorded on the Fraser River in recent years. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada)
Time for Indigenous-led salmon strategy on the Lower Fraser, says Alliance

‘Closures of First Nations, commercial and recreational salmon fishing’ have huge impact: LFFA

Among the pumpkin carvings created this year by Rick Chong of Abbotsford is this tribute to fallen officer Cont. Allan Young.
Abbotsford pumpkin carver’s creations include fallen police officer

Rick Chong carves and displays 30 pumpkins every year

Physical distancing signs are a common sight in B.C. stores and businesses. THE CANADIAN PRESS
272 more COVID-19 cases for B.C., outbreak at oil sands project

Three new health care outbreaks, three declared over

A Mercedes SUV is covered at a gas station in the Clayton area following a deadly shooting there on Sept. 28, 2019. (File photo)
This house at 414 Royal Ave. became notorious for its residents’ and visitors’ penchant for attracting police. It was also the site of a gruesome torture in August 2018. It was demolished in 2019. KTW
6-year sentence for Kamloops man who helped carve ‘rat’ into flesh of fellow gang member

Ricky Dennis was one of three men involved in the August 2018 attack

An online fundraising campaign in support of the six-year-old boy, Edgar Colby, who was hit by a car on Range Road Oct. 25 has raised more than $62,000 in a day. (Submitted)
$62K raised in 1 day for boy in coma at BC Children’s after being hit by vehicle in Yukon

The boy’s aunt says the family is “very grateful” for the support they’ve received from the community

Health care employees take extensive precautions when working with people infected or suspected of having COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
WorkSafeBC disallows majority of COVID-19 job injury claims

Health care, social services employees filing the most claims

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra Maestro Otto Tausk. (Photo: vancouversymphony.ca)
50/50 lotto players buck up for Metro Vancouver musicians hit hard by COVID

‘Rapidly growing jackpot’ for VSO’s 50/50 draw as they go online with TheConcertHall.ca

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

CBSA. (Black Press Media File)
4 sentenced in B.C. steroid smuggling, distribution ring that spilled into U.S.

Canadian Border Services Agency announced the results of a lengthy investigation it called ‘Project Trajectory’

Search and Rescue Technicians carry a stretcher to the CH149 Cormorant during a 442 Squadron Search and Rescue Exercise in Tofino on February 28. (Photo by: Cpl Joey Beaudin, 19 Wing Imaging, Comox)
Father and son found dead after weeklong search near Pemberton

The father and son had set out for a day of mushroom picking last Thursday

Most Read