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

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

The Rogers Creek Trail main trailhead is located on the Redford Extension in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Hiker rescued after cold few hours in the bush outside Port Alberni

Alberni Valley Rescue Squad said they receive frequent calls for people lost on this trail

Helma Swinkels, left, from Bibi J’s is all smiles as she makes her first donation under the new business name to Ellen Frood from Alberni Community and Women’s Services (ACAWS). In 18 sales days, Swinkels was able to donate $3,000 to the transition house. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Bibi J’s in Port Alberni makes first donation to non-profit

Alberni Women and Community Services to benefit

Alberta premier Jason Kenney announced that Red Deer and other rural locations would soon be getting doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. (photography by Paul Taillon/Office of the Premier)
EDITORIAL: Leading by example

Those in leadership roles need to follow the restrictions they impose on others

Melissa Martin from the Rollin Art Centre holds two paintings from the Rollin Art Centre’s permanent collection: an original portrait painted by the late Robert Aller, and a mixed media piece called ‘House’ from Peggy Larson that was part of Aller’s private collection. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
ARTS AROUND: Rollin Art Centre to re-open February 2

Newest exhibit will feature some pieces from permanent collection

Rik Abel has opened Rik’s Picks, a vintage record shop on Johnston Road. (TERESA BIRD / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
BIZ BEAT: Port Alberni businesses get innovative during pandemic

See what’s new in the Port Alberni business community

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

Vancouver Canucks’ Travis Hamonic grabs Montreal Canadiens’ Josh Anderson by the face during first period NHL action in Vancouver, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horvat scores winner as Canucks dump Habs 6-5 in shootout thriller

Vancouver and Montreal clash again Thursday night

A suspect has been arrested in connection with fires at Drinkwater Elementary (pictured) and École Mount Prevost. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Arson suspect arrested after fires at Cowichan Valley schools

Drinkwater Elementary and Mount Prevost schools hit within a week

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

Nanaimo RCMP are seeking the public’s help after a man allegedly assaulted a clerk at James General Store on Victoria Road on Jan. 18. (Submitted photo)
Suspect screams at customer then assaults store clerk in Nanaimo

RCMP asking for information about Jan. 18 incident at James General Store

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Chartwell Malaspina Care Residence in Nanaimo. (News Bulletin file photo)
Two Nanaimo care-home residents have died during COVID-19 outbreak

Death reported Monday was the second related to Chartwell Malaspina outbreak, says Island Health

Rod Bitten of Union Bay won $500,000 in the Lotto Max draw on Jan. 15. Photo supplied
Vancouver Island electrician gets shocking surprise with $500K Extra win

Rod Bitten has been hard at work with home renovations, which is… Continue reading

Eighteen-year-old Aidan Webber died in a marine accident in 2019. He was a Canadian Junior BMX champion from Nanaimo. (Submitted)
Inadequate safety training a factor in teen BMX star’s workplace death in 2019

Aidan Webber was crushed by a barge at a fish farm near Port Hardy

Most Read