JUNE 05, 2001
TUESDAY

 

Canada may soon sell its water abroad

Despite controversy, the nation with 20 per cent of the world's water could be moving to cash in on its 'blue gold'

By R. Senthilnathan
IN TORONTO

THE talk of it causes public outcry and arouses nationalistic passions, but the sale of Canadian fresh water to foreign countries, including to Asian countries and their hotels, may soon become a reality.

'It's coming,' said Mr Jamie Dunn, a water affairs spokesman at the Council of Canadians, a non-governmental organisation that opposes the commercial sale of water.

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He said recent developments showed that the country's water - touted by some as its 'blue gold' - would soon be shipped in tankers to distant lands.

The latest pointer came last week when Prime Minister Jean Chretien would only say that he did not know how his government would react to the eastern province of Newfoundland deciding to sell its fresh water abroad.

But environment and trade ministers were quick to say that this did not mean a change from the years-old policy of treating Canada's water as a precious national wealth, thus putting it beyond the reach of many companies waiting eagerly to cash in.

This, however, has not satisfied the critics.

Mr Bill Blaikie, the trade critic of the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), said that the Prime Minister's stand indicated uncertainty over policy.

'They are moving off the position they took on bulk water exports,' he said.

Earlier this month, Newfoundland Premier Roger Grimes said that his province's water should be sold to prevent 'wastage'.

He said: 'If we don't use it, most lakes and streams just go from a fresh water source out into the ocean.'

Newfoundland has been at the centre of water controversy for years.

At stake is the country's huge resource. Statistics claimed that the world's second largest country had between nine to 20 per cent of the globe's fresh water.

With water scarcity expected to hit many nations - including China - in a big way in the coming decades, many firms are hungrily waiting to cash in on the 'blue gold'.

While there is no Canadian law prohibiting water sale, the country's water has been exempted from the trade rules of the North American Free Trade Association (Nafta).

If one company or a province goes ahead with a deal, the Nafta agreement foresees that all of Canada's water should be available for trade - if there are any takers for it.

 
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