Part III: The New Political Economy of Transmission Industries: Oil and Gas, Electricity and Water
Chapter VI: "From Black Gold to Blue Gold: Lessons from an Altered Petroleum Trade Regime for An Emerging Water Trade Regime" - John N. McDougall, (UWO )
For almost two decades, one of the most controversial concerns raised by Canadian opponents of free trade with the United States was that it would lead to the large scale export of water from Canada. The main point of this chapter is that, in the free trade era, foreign direct investment in the provision of Canadian water services may hold larger national consequences bulk-water exports. Even with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), both the economics of bulk-water transmission and the existing federal/provincial policy regime place prohibitive obstacles the way of bulk-water exports, whereas the emerging international trade regime with respect to investor rights and trade in services is creating considerable potential for major foreign investments in, and hence control of, water services. In other words, the “trade in goods” aspects of market liberalization may have substantially less impact on Canadian welfare, as affected by the use of its water resources, than those relating to rights of establishment and trade in services. Meanwhile, a similar trend seems to be affecting Canada’s oil and gas sector, as Alberta’s oil-patch is beginning to realize a larger and larger share of its total returns on the export of oil and gas services, as compared with its traditional export of basic petroleum commodities, thus creating a strong interest on the part of at least one major Canadian industry in promoting stronger international protections for their own and others’ foreign direct investment.
The remainder of this chapter is devoted to a closer examination of the political economy of bulk-water exports from Canada in the light of the history and future prospects for the country’s petroleum industry. In particular, it is aimed to draw out the similarities and differences between the emerging trade regime with respect to water and the past and present trade regimes with respect to oil, natural gas and the construction of pipelines to carry both. Accordingly, this chapter will examine the costs of transporting bulk water; the regulatory constraints bearing on cross-border transmission projects; the evolution of the international trade regime with respect oil and gas; the free trade provisions governing bulk-water exports and prospective international investments in Canadian water services, and finally the growing role of multinational corporations in the provision of water services world wide. The chapter concludes with some thoughts about how the political economy of oil and water may be converging in during the transformations associated with the “new staples state”.
The Cost of Bulk-Water Transmission
The cost of transporting of large volumes of oil, natural gas and water by land or sea is considerable. In their heyday, for example, oil and gas pipelines represented some of the largest and most expensive infra-structural projects in history, rivaled perhaps only by the trans-continental railways and some of the largest electrical power facilities. The cost of energy transmission systems is not part of this discussion, but by most accounts the systems constructed to export such commodities often absorb a substantial portion of their delivered cost.. This has meant that geography (i.e., the distances between major sources and major markets) has played an important role in the marketing of energy resources. It also largely explains why, in the North American oil and gas market, cross-border regional market structures prevailed over national market structures for most of the post-World War period.
The economics of international bulk-water transmission do not appear to be very positive, either, a fact that can be substantiated with the simple observation that very little of it takes place anywhere in the world. While there are a few small-scale operations – generally involving the bulk shipment of water from one country to bottling plants in another country – practically no municipal water services anywhere in the world distribute internationally-traded water.14 Even more convincing is the fact that various schemes have been touted over the last few decades to move Alaskan water by tanker to ports on the west coast of the United States, but none to date has come to fruition. Moreover, a few Canadian provinces (Newfoundland and Labrador, British Colombia and Ontario) have granted export permits for the export of water by tanker, but a combination of economics and regulatory impediments have killed these initiatives or placed them on hold for the foreseeable future.
To repeat, moving large quantities of water on a sustained basis and over large distances is a very expensive business, probably prohibitively so. It is physically possible in only five known ways: by ocean-going tanker; by tanker trucks carried by barge; by pipeline; by huge floating bags towed by ship; and by water diversions (Feehan 2001 p.12). The best-known and most fully-costed of these methods is that of bulk-water tankers (converted from the more conventional function of shipping crude oil), but the economics of tanker shipments of water are not very attractive. In fact, the lowest estimated cost of tanker shipments is approximately US$1.14 per cubic meter for a 15 day return trip, and the cost could easily run as high as US$3.60 per cubic meter (Feehan 2001 p.13-15).15 Meanwhile, in 2001, the wholesale cost of treated water in California, for example, was reported to range from US$400 to US$600 per acre foot, or roughly US$0.32 to US$0.49 per cubic meter (Feehan 2001 p.21).16 In some of the driest regions of the United States, these prices can double. Nevertheless, even the highest of these prices is currently insufficient to make tanker shipments competitive.
Bulk-water pipelines have also been considered and, in a few instances, costed-out as a means of transmitting water. Again, the economics of such projects is not encouraging. For example, in 1971, the Libya pipeline project was conceived to pump water a distance of over 1,000 km from the southern Nubian desert to cities on the Mediterranean. At maximum scale, this project was anticipated to supply 730 million cubic meters per year, the equivalent of a good-sized river. However, the estimated cost was $25 billion, and the sources of ground-water involved were expected to run out in forty to sixty years, so the project was abandoned (Judd 2000 p.113).17 Meanwhile, at roughly the same time, and closer to home, it was proposed to construct a pipeline to transport water from Alaska to Lake Shasta, in California, a distance of 2,200 km. The estimated cost here was US$110 billion, yielding unit costs of delivered water at an estimated US$2.40-3.25 per cubic meter (Judd 2000 p.13).18
In light of these figures, water diversions may be the only economically viable mode of exporting water in the quantities envisaged by both the proponents and detractors of bulk-water exports in North America. Even here, however, economic fundamentals – not to mention significant potential for political and regulatory impediments – seem certain to deter such proposals. For example, Scott, Olynyk and Renzetti point out how the feasibility of such projects can be undermined by such factors as overall distance, water losses in transit due to seepage, watershed storage capacity, elevation (and therefore the need for pumping facilities) and exhaustible returns to scale (1986 p.164-5). Their main point is that, by increasing prospective capital costs, such factors threaten to raise significantly the overall debt that the projects must carry and thereby increase the projected unit cost of the water ultimately to be through by the diversion.
For similar reasons, despite the physical differences between pipelines and water diversions, the political economy of cross-border natural gas pipelines may shed light on the economic, political and regulatory constraints that are likely to affect the cost and over-all feasibility of projects designed for the trans-shipment of water. During the 1950s and 1960s, the governments of Canada and the United States encountered significant difficulties in achieving the international regulatory coordination required to undertake major cross-border pipeline projects. Both countries had a system for approving “certificates of public convenience and necessity”, which empowered the companies engaged in such trans-continental projects to prevail over the other economic and social interests they impinged upon. The difficulty was in getting the requisite authorities on both sides of the border to grant such certificates on the same – or even compatible – terms and conditions (McDougall 1982 chs. 4-6).19
The promoters of such projects also encountered difficulty matching available suppliers with eventual consumers on sufficiently favourable terms – and in sufficient time – to ensure the economic viability of specific pipeline ventures. Recently, of course, similar problems have befallen contending projects aimed to link Northern Alaskan and Mackenzie Delta gas reserves to markets in the United States. Such regulatory protections are deemed necessary because of the fundamental economic problem that the prices earned on gas delivered through such massive projects have to reach levels so high that they promise to both depress current demand and promote alternative supply of the commodity in the intended market, to the point where the projected need for the delivered commodity disappears.20
Meanwhile, this economic obstacle is exacerbated by mandated regulatory approval processes, which often entail allocation of burdens and benefits among suppliers, transmitters and consumers, all of whom are subject to the different economic and political priorities of the governments involved. Thus, regulatory conflicts can in turn can lead to long delays and add to uncertainties and financial risk. Nation-to-nation diplomacy – and issue linkages – are very likely to prove necessary to achieve resolution of these kinds of problems. In this context, it is worth noting that – despite all the attention paid to the pricing, marketing and security of energy supplies in both the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and the NAFTA – scarcely a word appeared in either agreement about the regulatory approval of cross-border transmission projects.21 There is, therefore, no analogous “case law” under these trade agreements for large-scale projects designed for the transmission or redirection of water.
The Emerging Trade Regime Affecting Oil, Gas and Water Exports
The point of this section is to compare the differences between the old protective trade regime with respect to oil and gas and the more recent, liberalized one and then to examine the extent to which these differences may serve as a guide to the salient dimensions of a liberalized international trade regime pertaining to bulk water. The value and validity of this comparative exercise largely depends, of course, on some of the more fundamental similarities and differences between the two types of commodities.
Among the most important similarities between petroleum and water as subjects of public policy – including international trade and investment policies – is their indispensability. Both resources can be categorized as vital. That is, it is extremely difficult – and with water it is literally impossible – to live without them. Both are almost equally necessary for the production of a wide range of highly desirable goods and services, as well as to the enjoyment of a tolerable life in most societies. In addition, by meeting in a wide variety of ways the fundamental human need for heat and/or motive power, some of the most valuable uses of hydro-electric power and petroleum products intersect or overlap with one another, and therefore all play a part in the various mixes of energy sources consumed by different industrialized societies. Notably, some oil and gas production methods require access to enormous quantities of water as, of course, does the production hydo-electric power itself. Similarly, advanced forms of agricultural production require large quantities of both water and energy as inputs.
Partly because of their qualities of ubiquity and partial inter-substitutability, trade in both commodities raise some fundamental economic questions about the optimal form in which they aught to be “exported”: as the commodities themselves, or as embedded in foods, manufactures or services. Fresh water in its natural state of rivers, lakes and glaciers presents a particularly striking range of such alternative economic uses: should it enter “trade” as bulk exports, as power exports, as agricultural exports or as ecological tourism? In other words, in addition to the export of water itself, it is important to consider the possibly higher value of “water-based exports”. The international trade in foodgrains provides one example, as do most other agricultural crops, along with exports of industrial products, from beer to aluminum (Scott, Olynyk and Renzetti 1986 p.164).
Finally, it should not be overlooked that petroleum and water also exhibit some political and policy similarities, as both water and oil and gas involve major political difficulties at the national, continental and world levels. For instance, both the production of syncrude in Alberta and the provision of municipal water services in Ontario surfaced as major focal points during the recent political controversy over Canada's ratification of the Kyoto Accords. The export of both water and oil and gas became even more controversial hot-points in the country's free trade debate in the mid-1980s (and – as we shall see in a moment – a debate continues over whether or not the NAFTA obligates Canada to export water in bulk to the United States). International wars are threatened – and, by some accounts, recently have been waged – over the possession and control of both oil fields and water resources of the Middle East.
All this granted, there are some major differences between the politics and policy regimes relating to oil and gas in the pre-free trade era and those of both oil and gas and water in the current free-trade era. The most obvious point to be made in the present context about the pre-free trade era is that water exports and imports were simply not an issue, owing mostly to the economic impediments to the large-scale transmission of water reviewed above. Most significantly, during the pre-free trade era, there was considerably less international trade in oil and natural gas than otherwise might have been expected, and this gap between trade potential and actual trade was at least in part a consequence of the kinds of national policy restrictions on such trade permitted under the reigning international trade regime. While there was substantial international trade in oil throughout most of the twentieth century, national oil and natural gas markets were heavily regulated.
The most common instruments of such national market regulation were:
investment and regulation of infrastructural development.
Space permits only the briefest review of how the new North American free trade regime has constrained the use of nearly all of these approaches to the control and shaping of national energy markets. Broadly speaking, under the current regime of market liberalization, the first three of these four national policy instruments are explicitly ruled out for oil and gas, and by extension are no longer available for application to the case of water. In addition, Chapter 11 of the NAFTA gives foreign investors in all resource sectors the right to legal action against any future national policies and regulations that might have the effect of denying them the opportunity to realize a financial return on previous or prospective investments.
More specifically -- to begin with quotas and preferential prices, the first two instruments listed -- it may be simplest to say that North American free trade completely ruled out another National Energy Program (NEP). That is to say, the trade agreements forbid two of the key pillars of that program: the diversion of Canadian energy supplies from existing American markets in favour of expanded Canadian markets and the imposition of higher prices on remaining exports than the price charged to domestic consumers. (NAFTA Articles 603, 604 and 605)
Similarly, the kinds of preference that the NEP extended to Canadian-owned firms over foreign-owned firms in the exploration and development of "Canada Lands" (territory under federal jurisdiction) would today be in violation of several NAFTA provisions in the investment chapter of the Agreement. Generically, these fall under the "national treatment" principle (NT) which specifies that, in the wording of one section of that chapter, "[e]ach Party shall accord to investors of another Party treatment no less favorable than that it accords, in like circumstances, to its own investors with respect to the establishment, acquisition, expansion, management, conduct, operation, and sale or other disposition of investments." (NAFTA Article 1102.1) In other words, the NEP's provision of special tax, subsidy, regulatory and other advantages to oil and gas companies with more than fifty percent Canadian ownership – as an incentive both to encourage those firms to engage in particular kinds of performance and to encourage the “repatriation” of existing firms operating under federal jurisdiction – are now out of the question.
This brings us to regulation. Here, the text of the NAFTA is remarkably vague, given the backdrop of the enormous controversies surrounding the fate of major northern pipeline proposals during the 1970s and early 1980s. Article 606, titled "Energy Regulatory Measures", creates no precise legal obligation on the part of its members to extend NT to the regulation of the construction of energy facilities (although Section 1 of that article does explicitly extend it to government action with respect to exports and export taxes). Instead, Section 2 of the article stipulates that each member must ensure that, in the application of any energy regulatory measure, energy regulatory bodies within its territory avoid disruption of contractual relationships to the maximum extent practicable, and provide for orderly and equitable implementation appropriate to such measures.
As NAFTA obligations go, this one seems to fall considerably short of a precise or firmly-binding commitment.
Free Trade Agreements and Water Exports and Investments
Before extrapolating these changes in the trade regime with respect to oil and gas to the emerging one with respect to water, it is important to note that there is considerable controversy in Canada (and elsewhere) concerning the extent to which the NAFTA is applicable to water exports. Given the kinds of arguments that have taken place on the matter of trade agreements and water exports, it is perhaps not surprising that the member governments of the FTA and the NAFTA have gone out of their way to provide frequent public assurances that these agreements establish no obligation on the part of any of them to export water.
The chapter and verse of these repeated assurances will not be reviewed here. However, a 1999 study presented an objective summary of both sides of this apparently endless debate:
...the three NAFTA countries clearly stated in their joint declaration of December 1993 that the NAFTA does not apply to water in its natural state in lakes, rivers, etc., since the water has not at that point “entered into commerce and become a good” for the purposes of the NAFTA. The [Canadian] federal government has taken this position all along with respect to the NAFTA and its predecessor, the FTA. Nevertheless, critics of the government position remain adamant that water in its natural state is covered by the NAFTA and that nothing short of an amendment to the agreement, accompanied by federal legislation banning large scale water exports, will protect our water resources adequately. Hence, the concerns of critics have not been appeased by the federal government’s recent announcement of a strategy for seeking a commitment from all jurisdictions across Canada to prohibit the bulk removal of water, including water for export, from Canadian watersheds. Thus, the debate concerning water exports continues (Johansen 1999 p.10).
It is worth noting that the joint federal-provincial strategy referred to did not succeed, owing to the reluctance of provincial governments to cede or compromise their constitutional jurisdiction over natural resources. However, all but one of the provinces (New Brunswick) subsequently passed unilateral legislation that effectively bans the “bulk removal” of water outside their borders or between their major watersheds. However, it is also worth noting that, in framing such prohibitions, all governments in Canada seemed to exercise great care to avoid using the term “water exports”, apparently out of a concern that to do so would subject their attempts to regulate this matter to appeals under existing trade agreements (Heinmiller 2004 p. 20).
More recently, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador received an opinion on this matter that closely resembles the federal government’s position summarized in the preceding quotation. According to this opinion,
NAFTA and the [World Trade Organization (WTO)] place obligations on Canada in respect of trade in goods and in respect of investment by the investors of NAFTA parties. These obligations apply to bulk water only if the sale of bulk water is permitted and bulk water is placed into commerce. Nothing in NAFTA or the WTO requires a state to exploit its natural resources. There is, thus, no obligation on Canada to permit the sale of bulk water. It can do so if it chooses. Since natural resources, including fresh water, fall within provincial jurisdiction, any decision on the sale of bulk water is a matter for each province (McRae 2001, 21).
This opinion goes on to make the case, however, that should a province authorize the sale of bulk water, then relevant rules of the NAFTA and WTO would apply, with two major consequences. First, barring legitimate environmental grounds for doing so, the sale of bulk water could not be restricted to the domestic market within Canada. Second, any subsequent decision to stop selling bulk water might involve liability to foreign investors for denying them expected commercial benefits of any investments they had made (McRae 2001 p.21).22
Finally, it is important to explore in greater detail the role of Chapter 11 of the NAFTA in protecting the rights of investors in relation to the possible export of water, potentially to the detriment of planning and regulation in relation to Canada's water resources. There are two different scenarios under which Article 1102 can work to obligate Canadian governments to permit the export of water. Both scenarios involve NT, but they nevertheless differ with respect to whether the potential adverse discrimination in violation of NT injures investors in a water project or, instead, the potential consumers of the water delivered by it. The first possibility might occur if both a Canadian and an American investor were seeking separate bulk water export licenses or water diversion approvals. Here, the government in question is constrained by Article 1102 from granting a license to a Canadian investor while denying one to an American investor – a denial to the latter of NT. The implication of this is that Canadian governments retain the power to deny water export projects so long as such a prohibition applies to national as well as foreign investors (Shrybman 2002, p.7).
The second possibility might occur if one company (domestic or foreign) is seeking to provide domestic water services to Canadian municipal consumers from a watershed within in a Canadian province, and another company (domestic or foreign) seeks to do the same thing (from the same watershed) on behalf of municipal consumers in an American state. In other words, the comparison is not between licensing a domestic- versus a foreign-based proposal for exports, but rather between licensing “in like circumstances” two very similar projects for the delivery of water services, with only difference being the nationality of the beneficiaries of the investment. Here, the implication is that, once certain types of exploitation of Canadian water resources are permitted at all, their benefits cannot be restricted to Canadians. As a corallary of this, and as discussed earlier in connection with the Government of Newfoundland Report, there would seem to be no obligation under the NAFTA to grant proposals to exploit water resources for export so long as there are none granted, either, to exploit water commercially within Canada. However, Steven Shrybman (2002 p.8) has argued that plausible court interpretations of Chapter 11 cast a shadow over even this conclusion.23
In fact, it may well be that none of the possibilities raised in this discussion of Chapter 11 represents, at this stage in NAFTA’s history, a legal or political certainty. Schrybman's opinion echoes a number of widely-shared concerns about the open-ended and untested implications of Chapter 11. For example, he writes that the investment provisions of this Chapter represent a very significant innovation in the sphere of international trade agreements and many of the terms and concepts engendered by the provisions of this Chapter are entirely untested by trade dispute of (sic) judicial determination. Making predictions about the likely outcome of prospective litigation arising under these rules is a highly uncertain enterprise (Shrybman 2001 p.8).
Worse still, the nature of the dispute-resolution process contained within the Chapter may not even produce clarification of key issues as time passes and cases potentially proliferate, because there is no process of judicial precedent under these procedures that would bind any tribunal to adopting the same interpretation as another tribunal that had considered the same issues. For this reason, Shrybman writes, "it will be impossible in our view for Canada to develop water policy or regulatory initiatives with any certainty that these would withstand the rigours of investor-state litigation or for that matter, trade challenge (Shrybman 2001 p.9)."
What can be predicted with some certainty, however, is that even if – for reasons argued earlier in this discussion – few or no proposals come forward in the near future for bulk-water exports, pressures from multinational corporations to expand into the provision of municipal water services in Canada will grow significantly over the foreseeable future. A number of observers have pointed out that major multinational corporations are beginning to penetrate national markets such as Canada’s in significant ways, to the extent that the large-scale transmission of bulk water may soon become a less pressing issue for opponents of market liberalization than the preservation of government ownership of a critical public service.
Barlow and Clark (2002), for example, paint a disconcerting picture of how economic globalization is driving what they depict as a world water crisis. Theybegan by looking at what happened at the World Water Forum in March 2000, where business organizations (such as the Global Water Partnership), the World Bank, and some of the worlds largest for-profit water corporations discussed how companies could benefit from selling water around the world. They then considered three ways in which the delivery of water, traditionally provided by municipal governments in most countries, is gradually being taken over by multinational corporations. These were, first, the complete selling-off by governments of public water delivery and treatment systems to corporations, as has happened in the UK; second, the model developed in France, whereby water corporations are granted concessions or leases by governments to take over the delivery of the service and carry the cost of operating and maintaining the system, while collecting all the revenues for the water service and keeping the surplus as a profit; and third, a more restricted model, in which a corporation is contracted by the government to manage water services for an administrative fee, but is not permitted to take over the collection of revenues.
To date, the most prevalent of the three models is the second, often referred to as “public-private partnerships". Once privatization schemes are implemented, public controls diminish substantially – even though typically the public will have provided financial guarantees to the investing firm. Most privatized water systems involve long-term concession contracts lasting between 20 and 30 years, and these contracts are extremely difficult to cancel, even when unsatisfactory performance can be demonstrated. Meanwhile, some international observers have noted further that the big water corporations have developed a close working relationship with the World Bank and other global financial agencies. This has allowed them to position themselves to play strategic role in the World Trade Organization, especially in negotiations to establish a new set of global rules for cross-border trade in water services (Finger and Lobina 1999). This adds both the prospects of diversification and expansion of “water TNCs” and the concentration in the global water industry to existing concerns about the future political economy of water.
TNCs thus appear to be gaining access to a whole range of previously protected sectors of public utilities, including water, and the typical oligopolistic structure of the French market seems to be reproducing itself on a global scale as a result of trade liberalization and privatization. Collusive behaviour among TNCs is both a cause and a consequence of their excessive market power, and dramatically restricts competition in water supply and sanitation. There may be a strong need, therefore, for the adoption of appropriate legal instruments able to bind TNCs to fair conduct and consequently to otherwise manage global trade in water services. However, the overall conclusion remains that nothing in the NAFTA, the WTO or the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) can compel any level of government to privatize local water works, let alone force them to contract with a global firm to do so. However, a move toward any form of privatization would mean that those governments cannot discriminate against foreign-based firms in the provision of such services. This conclusion is consistent with those arrived at above with respect to water exports and trade treaties.
It remains to be seen whether or not Canadian governments will be tempted to take advantage of the interest of some of the global water giants in operating or fully taking over the country’s water services, especially municipal water systems. To a limited extent, this has already happened, with just such deals being struck in Canadian cities such as Halifax, Hamilton and London. In attempting to anticipate how far this phenomenon might spread, it is important to recognize some of the background factors that may facilitate a higher rate of acceptance of this model. In the first place, such moves would be consistent with the recent tendency of local governments to substitute private investment – including foreign direct investment – for taxation in meeting both capital and operating budget requirements. Selling off erstwhile public assets seems a more attractive option for municipal politicians than facing the flack associated with raising taxes. At a more profound level, however, the grip that neo-conservatism seems to have on the Canadian business community seems more likely to smooth the way for more FDI in Canadian water services.
In fact, the extent to which the orientation of Canadian business has become transformed in the neo-conservative and free trade era is quite striking. It seems fair to say that free trade would not have come about if dominant Canadian business interests had not abandoned their traditional insistence on the preservation of a national economy and instead embraced the free trade option. However, matters have moved well beyond that initial repudiation of national protectionism. Today, Canadian business not only places a higher priority on market forces than on state intervention, it is beginning to place a higher priority on the American than on the Canadian market. Where foreign direct investment flows were once almost entirely one way – from south to north – they recently have evened out, and during the past year or so they have begun to flow heavily from north to south. Thus, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (2003, Table 2.4.1, 31) the compound annual growth rate of outward Canadian foreign direct investment into the United States has risen from 0.35 percent in 1989-94 to 16.38 percent in 1994-02. Meanwhile, the comparable figures for inward US investment into Canada have fallen from 26.33 percent to 16.63 percent. This growing desire of Canadian businesses to penetrate the American (and other foreign) markets with investments, rather than simply exports, means that they have taken on an even greater hostility to what remains of Canadian economic protectionism, especially with respect to investor rights.
Knowing as they appear to do that investor-access to foreign markets is generally available only on a reciprocal basis, a substantial proportion of the Canadian business community now lobbies the Canadian government to make the country more open than before to trade in services (for example) so that it can more effectively acquire more open access for similar investments in other countries. As a result, according to Stephen Clarkson, “Now thinking of Canada more as a home than as a host country for foreign investment, Ottawa’s trade officials welcomed the tough rules that the United States wanted to impose on the world (Clarkson 2002 p.119).” Having grown to enjoy their recent status as free-traders, it seems, Canadian business people now fancy themselves as foot-loose international investors.
The potential economic benefit to Canadian industries from such reciprocally-liberalizing changes is difficulty to quantify precisely. However, it seems from occasional coverage in the business pages of the country’s major newspapers that the Canadian "oil patch", for example, is increasingly populated by firms with less interest in exporting oil and gas to the United States than in exporting world-wide their technological and managerial knowledge with respect to the discovery and optimal exploitation of oil and gas reserves. Alberta’s oil and gas firms – with much encouragement from the Alberta government – are striving more and more to add earnings associated with the export of oil and gas services, technology and managerial expertise to those deriving from the export of oil and gas themselves. In fact, for the years 1998-2000, between 27 and 30 percent of the overall revenues flowing to Canada’s oil and gas equipment and services industry were generated by service exports (Statistics Canada Energy Section 2002 p.2-3). More broadly, the average annual growth of Alberta’s export of services in all sectors between 1989 and 1999 was 7.9 percent, or from $1.7 billion in 1989 to $3.6 billion in 1999 (Alberta Economic Development 2001 p.11).24 Accordingly, a recent review of the Canadian oil and gas equipment and services industry reports that it “presently holds a 3.5% share of the world market, and is the sixth largest exporter in the world. Its industry is recognized as a leader in a number of specialized recovery and processing products. Canadian exports are expected to increase by 12-13% annually (Statistics Canada 2004).”
Among other things, these developments in the oil-patch may be creating a good example of some of the dynamics of the post-staples state in “Schumpeterian competition mode”, as is described by Adam Wellstead (this volume, ch. X p.17). The city of Calgary certainly shows signs of such a transformation, as it appears to be moving from an industrial (albeit predominantly extractive) economy to a knowledge-based economy focused on the provision (including export) of specialized services rather than the natural resources themselves. Calgary also appears to conform to the emerging model of “metropolitianization” described by Tom Hutton (this volume, ch. 2 pp. ?-?), where immigration and other sources of social change combine with the industrial transformations just noted to create a shift in economic orientation. As he informs us, “Increasingly, Canada’s metropolitan cities foster engagement with international and global markets, cities and societies, in the process experiencing a measure of divergence from traditional regional resource regions and communities (p.?).
Moreover, as Stephen Clarkson anticipated, these developments seem to have encouraged the Alberta government to press for an intensely liberalizing stance at international trade negotiations, whether at the WTO, the GATS or the Free Trade Association of the Americas. This link is drawn explicitly in the Alberta Service Exports Survey (Alberta Economic Development 2001) and it is elaborated in more detail in this passage from an earlier provincial study:
For purposes of the GATS negotiations, the federal government requires an accurate assessment of the trade barriers encountered by service exporters in this country. In coordination with the Department of Intergovernmental and International Relations, who will provide the Federal Government with Alberta’s position regarding the GATS negotiations, Alberta Economic Development [AED] has initiated this research to provide updated and reliable information on trade barriers faced by the province’s services exporters by market, sector, mode of supply, and type of barrier (Alberta Economic Development 1999 p.5).”
This undertaking was part of a wider initiative on the part of AED “to support government efforts in developing trade initiatives and in reducing trade impediments in key markets and be an advocate for open competiton (ibid).” There is ample evidence that a substantial portion of this initiative was aimed to persuade the federal government to “schedule” substantial commitments of its own toward the further liberalization of the domestic market for foreign-based service providers across a wide spectrum of industries. In keeping with the overall linkages explored in this discussion, such an appeal seems almost inevitably to point in the direction of trade-offs between the interests of the maturing oil patch in search of foreign markets and those of multinational water-service providers seeking access to the Canadian market.
Conclusion: The Effects of Free Trade Agreements on National Resource Policies
The foregoing analysis of changes in the oil and gas trade regime and their possible application to an emerging water trade regime seems to support three principal conclusions. First, actual trade in bulk water is unlikely very soon, if ever, to overcome the constraints imposed by the very high cost of the long-distance transmission of bulk water. Thus, interestingly enough, even under the new free trade regime it is highly unlikely that bulk water trade will ever replicate the continental pattern of oil and gas trade and transmission that grew up even before free trade.
Second, for this reason – plus the fact that the NAFTA does not significantly alter the exercise of national regulatory powers over the construction and operation of major transmission facilities – the most consequential characteristics of the new free trade regime with respect to water are not those pertaining to commodity trade and transportation at all, but rather those pertaining to rights of investors. The principal policy challenge associated with water in contemporary North America is not to prevent the large-scale alienation of the commodity to foreign consumers – the hew and cry of an earlier generation of "nationalists" in relation to oil and natural gas as tradable commodities – but rather the wholesale takeover of local water services by foreign investors, particularly in the form of mammoth TNCs.
Third, in consequence of this, the relative shift in the focus political controversy from oil and gas in the 1970s and 1980s toward water in the present decade neatly parallels a more general shift in the relative significance of the investment as opposed to the trade provisions of the emerging market liberalization process, both continental and global. From the vantage point of the evolving balance between state and market, the regime constructed by the GATT – primarily in order to reduce tariffs on manufactured goods – left plenty of room, as we have seen, for interventionist and protectionist resource policies of the kind adopted by both Canada and the United States during the Cold War era. Today, the more comprehensive and ambitious free trade regime dominated by the WTO – including the GATS and TRIMS – are aimed to severely constrain national governments from framing or retaining policies that impede TNCs from encroaching on national-, provincial- and local-government delivery of important public services, ranging from health care through municipal water services to education and a host of environmental management functions.
All of these shifts in orientation seem likely to compound the trend toward decentralization in the post-staples state. According to Wellstead (this volume, ch. X pp. 8-13), the economy that supported the original staples state, while heavily regionalized, was dominated by an industrialized centre and functioned for most of the 20th century as a genuinely national economy, since it was almost literally “engineered” to work that way. Harold Innis argued that Canada exists not despite geography, but because of it. But that observation was borne of the fur-trade centred on Montreal and the path-dependent transportation and resource development that followed it. It seems a crucial question whether Hutton’s post-staples state, now founded instead upon by a scattering of internationalizing metropolitan centres – most possessing their own extractive hinterlands – can long sustain its national coherence and identity.
Meanwhile – and in conclusion – the political side of Canada’s political economy of resource policy is changing according to the entrepreneurial priorities of Canadian-based resource companies. Just as during the 1950s, 60s and 70s there were domestic groups with a strong economic interest in wider continental markets for Canada’s oil and gas – and therefore pressing for less restrictive Canadian policies toward both exports and imports – today there are similar domestic groups with a strong economic interest in expanding Canada's share of the growing world market for commodity-based service industries, who therefore press for less restrictive national policies world-wide toward foreign investment and rights of establishment. To the extent that they succeed with this agenda, it will serve as yet another reminder of how far the process of market liberalization is reaching into national policy-making processes and priorities.
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