Washington, October 16, 2017 – Canada, Mexico and the United States are currently in a process of renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Much has been talked about and written on this subject. The Trudeau government has taken the position – backed by the mainstream media – that NAFTA has been a very good thing for Canada and that it would be a terrible loss if it were to be abrogated. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has appeared to consult a broad spectrum of Canadians about NAFTA. The process of public consultation under this Liberal government, while it seemed at first a welcome departure from the secretive Harper years, has been used in other cases to make the government look good while totally ignoring the views it heard. Canadians who appeared before the House of Commons Special Committee on Electoral Reform overwhelmingly supported some form of proportional voting system, but the government rejected these views and completely abandoned its promise of electoral reform.
Similarly, the vast majority of those who appeared before the International Trade Committee’s hearings on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade deal between 12 Pacific-based countries, were opposed to it, but the government is moving ahead with these negotiations.
Minister Freeland also set up an advisory council made up of representatives from across the political spectrum, bringing together people with differing points of view with the goal of making the saving of NAFTA a shared national project.
She has taken the very strong denunciations of NAFTA from the submissions of many progressive organizations as evidence that a Canadian consensus to seek an improved NAFTA is growing. This plan is working; even the CBC reports that the process is now to “modernize” NAFTA, buying into the narrative that the deal is essential to our economic well-being.
The Trudeau government has also smartly differentiated itself from the narrow and xenophobic nationalism of President Trump’s anti-NAFTA stance by equating free trade agreements like NAFTA with being “open to the world,” welcoming refugees and celebrating diversity.
In fact, the government is promising to use this opportunity to make NAFTA the most modern, progressive trade agreement in the world. Minister Freeland has stated she wants to put labour, environmental, gender and Indigenous rights into the body of a renegotiated text.
Progressive voices in Canada that have been highly critical of NAFTA as a tool for corporate interests find ourselves somewhat caught. Labour, environmental, indigenous and social justice groups obviously do not side with the “Make America Great Again” nationalism of the Trump administration.
At the same time, we are deeply critical of the pro-free trade policies of the Trudeau government and are highly doubtful that it is going to achieve any meaningful results from the renegotiation process unless NAFTA is profoundly changed.
This report is offered to document how NAFTA has impacted many sectors of Canadian society; what its major flaws have been; what needs to be changed, dropped or added to make it an agreement that would benefit the majority; and how we will know when it is time to walk away from it.
The Council of Canadians
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