North American FTAs, Consumer
Welfare, and the Resolution of
General Trade Disputes
Chapter Eighteen disputes are only initiated by the Parties to the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA). This excludes other interested groups from using Chapter Eighteen to try to eliminate barriers to trade (Canada 1988f: Chapter 18). 1 One of the most serious problems with Chapter Eighteen is that unless a problem becomes politicized in the first place, it is unlikely to warrant either Party requesting a resolution. In this sense, Chapter Eighteen tends to be reactive -- it does not tackle issues until they represent a problem. As Sohn ( 1987:319-27) indicates, the "small" issues tend to be, ". . . swept away as not deserving attention of the overworked public servants . . . [and] . . . [t]here has to be significant, substantial, or serious effect, impact, or injury before governments become interested in a particular situation."
Even if consumers could overcome the problems outlined in the previous section on Chapter Nineteen concerning the costs of competing in the international trade law arena, there is no allowance for initiating public input in the Chapter Eighteen forum. This issue was initially raised prior to the FTA by a number of commentators. For example, Steger ( 1987) states that, ". . . it is extremely important that the domestic legislation implementing this agreement provide explicitly for mechanisms whereby private parties within Canada, and indeed sub national governments such as provinces and municipalities, can activate the government of Canada to take appropriate action on their behalf. Without such procedures in domestic legislation, private parties will not have the opportunity to utilize these dispute settlement procedures and their effectiveness will be limited (pp.15-16)."2 This is likely to become more so the case if Chapter Eighteen comes to be used as a pressure release valve for the political process. As Winham ( 1990: 13) put it,