Canada’s goals for ‘progressive’ NAFTA include labour and environmental standards, gender equality

Canada, the U.S.A., and Mexico are in talks to renegotiate NAFTA, an
agreement President Trump reportedly considers “fundamentally flawed”.
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in Canada who doesn’t agree that NAFTA is
flawed, but Chrystia Freeland, the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, is
said to be optimistic about the negotiations.  

Though the three countries have entered a confidentiality
to protect offers made during the negotiations, we can
still get a sense of what Canada will be aiming to achieve. Before leaving for
Washington, Freeland set out
Canada’s core objectives in the negotiations: 

1.    Address technological changes. Freeland states that one of Canada’s aims is to modernize NAFTA to
reflect the technological changes since it was first negotiated 23 years ago.

2,     Make NAFTA more “progressive.” According to Freeland, Canada hopes to accomplish a more progressive
agreement by:
  • Incorporating
    strong labour safeguards
    in the core of the agreement. In this regard,
    Freeland states:

    One reason that these
    progressive elements, particularly on the  environment and
    labour, are so
    important is that they are how we guarantee that the modernized NAFTA will not
    only be an exemplary free trade deal, it will also be a fair trade deal.
    Canadians broadly support free trade. But their enthusiasm wavers when trade
    agreements put our workers at an unfair disadvantage because of the high
    standards that we rightly demand. Instead, we must pursue progressive trade
    agreements that are win-win, helping workers both at home and abroad to enjoy
    higher wages and better conditions.

  • Integrating
    enhanced environmental provisions
    to ensure no NAFTA country weakens
    environmental protection to attract investment, and that supports efforts to
    address climate change;
  • Adding a new chapter
    on gender rights
    , in keeping with Canada’s commitment to gender
  • Improving
    Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples
    , by adding an Indigenous
    chapter; and
  • Reforming the
    Investor-State Dispute Settlement process
    , to ensure that governments have
    an unassailable right to regulate in the public interest.


3. Cut red tape
for the business community
. According to Freeland, Canada will seek
to bring regulations into harmony to make it easier for business people on
either side of the border.

4. Liberalize government procurement. This
prerogative is sure to be a sticking point in the negotiations, as it will push
back against the Trump administration’s buy-American rhetoric. Freeland
has stated:

Local-content provisions for
major government contracts are political junk-food, superficially appetizing,
but unhealthy in the long run.

Freer movement of professionals
. This would be accomplished by extending
the temporary entry provisions in Chapter 16 of NAFTA to reflect the needs of

6. Limit
Freeland states that Canada will seek to preserve a fair
process of anti-dumping and duties.

Final Thoughts

The Good

Many of Canada’s goals in entering these negotiations could have a
positive impact on workers.

At present labour standards under NAFTA are contained in side
agreements, which provide inadequate protections to workers. Bringing
strengthened labour standards into the core of the agreement could mean more
protections for workers’ safety, the right to bargain collectively, and the
right to strike. These improvements would give labour a chance to have more
input and control over working conditions.

Also, seeking to reduce the attractiveness of foreign labour by
advocating for fair wages for all workers, no matter which country is involved,
could limit unfair wage competition and keep jobs in Canada.

In theory, anti-dumping provisions could protect the local economies of
all parties to the agreement. Under anti-dumping provisions, any of the three
nations involved could impose duties on imports if it believes they are priced
below fair market value.

The Bad

While it’s laudable that Canada is open to reforms to the ISDS
provisions, and that it will seek to protect its right to make environmental
regulations, it must go further. Canada has been the most commonly sued country
under the ISDS provisions of NAFTA, being penalized, in part, because of a
desire to protect our environment and industries. ISDS provisions give
corporations too much control over sovereign entities and it would be best to
seek an elimination of the ISDS provisions entirely.

Further, there’s good reason to be skeptical of any renegotiated NAFTA, given
the negative impact the initial NAFTA agreement has had on labour generally and
organized labour particularly. If nothing else, NAFTA represents a facet of the
ongoing shift to a global economy, and for that reason alone must be regarded
with suspicion. The agreement has facilitated the ongoing
offshoring/outsourcing of jobs and has had a devastating impact on the labour
movement and workers’ rights. If Canada hopes to create a truly positive
agreement for workers, it must remain mindful of the agreement’s dangerous potential
to damage labour. If Canada is serious about defending labour and workers’
rights, it could argue for a provision that prevents work from being outsourced
to right-to-work regions or states. That, at least, would help to ensure
workers are not being exploited. Freeland’s objectives say nothing about

—- —-
While Canada’s objectives could be improved, they are
largely positive. According to a report,
Trump has said both Mexico and Canada were being “very difficult” in talks to
renegotiate NAFTA. With the trouble NAFTA has brought to Canadian workers,
Canada has every reason to be difficult in the renegotiations, and we can only
hope the President is being sincere on this point.



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