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It's past the time to walk away from NAFTA

Photo by Wikimedia commons.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has hurt Mexicans, Americans, Canadians, Quebecers, and Indigenous peoples.

NAFTA: 20 Years of Costs to Communities and the Environment concluded that "[NAFTA] increased mining activity and trade in fossil fuels while it decreased the ability of governments to put in place policies to regulate such polluting industries."

The FTA at 25, NAFTA at 20 analysis by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives summarized, "The FTA/NAFTA failed to meet the fundamental test of any major policy initiative -- to better the lives of its citizens."

And this weekend, Unifor President Jerry Dias noted, "We have lived with a bad NAFTA deal for a quarter century. It makes no sense to me to repeat that with a new NAFTA."

Both Dias and Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom highlight that it's deeply problematic for U.S. President Donald Trump to say he could still use a "national security" provision (with a NAFTA 2.0 in place and without a reasonable rationale) to impose tariffs on Canadian goods.

Walkom writes, "A trade pact that can be upended on the whim of the U.S. president is of no use to Canada. It provides no certainty for those Canadian businesses that hope to export tariff-free to the U.S. It provides no certainty for those who might invest in Canada."

Beyond that, the renegotiation of NAFTA has been marred by a fake public consultation, the undue influence and involvement of corporate lobby groups, and a lack of transparency. The government will only say it won't negotiate in public, which isn't an excuse for keeping the public in the dark and then presenting them with a fait accompli.

Furthermore, there is no indication or reason to believe that the key principle of free, prior and informed consent will be incorporated into the deal to protect Indigenous rights; that it will include binding environmental and social regulations; that water will be enshrined as a human right (not a tradable good); that it will include mechanisms to constrain transnational oil and gas corporations and prioritize climate justice, as opposed its existing mandatory oil and gas export provision; or that it will serve to decrease the cost of pharmaceutical drugs and facilitate the implementation of pharmacare, versus extending profit-maximizing patents for transnationals.

Let us also remember that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has backed the controversial Chapter 11 investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provision in the deal that handcuffs public interest legislation affecting the future profits of corporations. In a final deal, he will be prioritizing the interests of the 1 per cent, not the broader public.

So what do we have to lose?

In May 2017, trade researcher Scott Sinclair wrote, "If NAFTA were to come apart ... WTO-bound tariff rates would then apply. ...Under that scenario, Canadian exporters could face an additional U.S.$3.5-5 billion in customs duties, equivalent to the value of 1.25 to 1.8 per cent of current exports. That's a speed bump, for sure, but would not bring trade to a screeching halt."

A big worry now appears to be Trump's threat to impose a 25 per cent tariff on the Canadian automotive industry (that, significantly, could be imposed even if a NAFTA 2.0 deal were to be reached). The Canadian Automobile Dealers Association recently stated this could result in the loss of 100,000 jobs in Canada.

Given that the federal government has little control over that, it should at least give equal attention to pursuing a climate-friendly strategy that would create twice as many jobs.

As part of this One Million Climate Jobs proposal, the Canadian Labour Congress and allies have noted that an investment of $17.6 billion to improve and expand public transit would create 223,000 jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 11 to 20 megatonnes.

Given the Trudeau government will likely end up spending $15-20 billion to purchase and build the Trans Mountain pipeline (which would create in comparison only 2,500 construction jobs and spew 80+ megatonnes of upstream and downstream emissions), spending on climate jobs is both better public policy and a better public investment.

The draft text of the US-Mexico "free trade" agreement is expected to be posted on September 30.

When that text is finally released, it would be advisable to evaluate it in relation to the progressive principles outlined in the Trade: time for a new vision The Alternative Trade Mandate report. I think you will find the comparison doesn't flatter the deal struck with Trump and Mexico.

We have heard from both sides on this issue that no deal is better than a bad deal. And given there is every indication that we are virtually guaranteed a bad deal, it's time to say no to NAFTA. It's time for us to commit to a popular mobilization for a new vision for global trade, one that meets the needs of the 99 per cent and the planet, not the 1 per cent.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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