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

DriveBC camera.
Vehicle into ditch on Highway 97C

The crash happened about 8:15 a.m. Tuesday

Pringles.
Morning Start: The inventor of the Pringles can is now buried in one

Your morning start for Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020

Fire rips through Skaha apartment building at Elm Avenue Friday morning. (Facebook)
Fire rips through Penticton apartment building

Dozens displaced from 4 a.m. blaze

Summerland’s fallen soldiers and nurses are displayed on banners displayed around the community prior to Remembrance Day. (Contributed)
Remembrance banners depict Summerland’s fallen soldiers

Efforts to create banners began in 2000

Zippy, a five-year-old toy fox/rat terrier, needs immediate surgery to have his teeth removed. (Submitted photo)
FILE – Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides the latest update on the COVID-19 pandemic in the province during a press conference in the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, October 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. shatters COVID-19 records with 817 weekend cases; masks now expected indoors

Three people have died over the past three reporting periods

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Aberdeen Hall and St. Joseph Catholic School have confirmed cases of COVID-19. (Aberdeen Hall Preparatory School - Facebook)
COVID-19 cases confirmed at two private Kelowna schools

Aberdeen Hall and St. Joseph Catholic School communities have been made aware

The voting station mimicked a real voting station in Nicole Choi’s classroom at Chilliwack middle school on Oct. 22, 2020, where students had to show their ID (student cards), be checked off a list, and mark a secret ballot behind a screen. (Jessica Peters/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. students choose NDP majority in mock election

More than 90,000 youth took part in school-based election process

Crew transport bus at the Trans Mountain pipeline project work site in Burnaby, March 2020. (Trans Mountain)
Check your workplace COVID-19 safety plans, Dr. Henry urges

Masks in public spaces, distance in lunchrooms for winter

B.C.’s Court of Appeal is in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Judgment reserved in Surrey Six slayings appeals

Six men were killed in suite 1505 of the Balmoral Tower in Whalley on Oct. 19, 2007

FILE – A woman smokes a marijuana joint at a “Wake and Bake” legalized marijuana event in Toronto on October 17, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov
Home nurse visits could play big role in reducing cannabis use, smoking in young mothers

The program, dubbed the BC Healthy Connections Project, involves public health nursing home visits

Spallumcheen's Lloyd Main stands behind his record-breaking 1,000 pound pumpkin at the weigh-in of the annual Pumpkin Growing contest, part of the Armstrong-Spallumcheen Chamber of Commerce's Harvest Pumpkin Festival Saturday, Oct. 17, at the IPE Grounds. (AS Chamber Photo)
1,000 lb pumpkin tips North Okanagan scale

Spallumcheen’s Lloyd and Erma Main finish one-two with a pair of gourds totalling almost a ton

Kelowna City Hall has been vandalized overnight. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Kelowna City Hall hit by anti-pandemic vandalism

Graffiti condemning the virus appears overnight on City Hall

Most Read