Export Development Canada taking some heat

Jamie Kneen

National Program Co-Lead

The Canadian Export Development Agency (EDC) provides public financing and political risk insurance to Canadian companies investing in large-scale projects overseas. In 1997, EDC worked with 3,711 customers in 145 global markets. It is a federal crown corporation.

EDC projects have enormous human and environmental impact. Some of the world's worst environmental disasters have involved Canadian firms financed by EDC. The Ok Tedi Mine received $88 million in EDC export credits. The Omai mine in Guyana, the Three Gorges Dam in China and the Kumtor Mine in Kyrgyzstan have all received EDC support. Most famously, so has AECL's CANDU deal with China. Information about these investments is not available from the EDC itself.

EDC operates almost entirely without public scrutiny. It is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act and from the Environmental Assessment Act because it is a crown corporation. It has no environmental or human rights policy. In April 1999, EDC did release a voluntary Environmental Review Framework, but it is well below recognised environmental standards, and only considers environmental risk not environmental impact. There are no human rights standards at all.

A group of non-profits has come together to push the EDC to meet minimal human rights and environmental standards, and to demand accountability and transparency in its actions. Headed up by the Halifax Initiative, the working group includes MiningWatch Canada, the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, the Canadian Labour Congress, Democracy Watch, and the Sierra Club, among many others.

When new enabling legislation goes to the House of Commons later this fall, the working group will be ready to coordinate a strong presence in the Finance Committee hearings.