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Challenging the far right's nationalist opposition to free trade deals

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Refugees entering Europe in 2015, arriving by sea through Greece and Italy. Photo by Jmersina/ Wikimedia Commons.

Extreme right-wing, anti-immigration and Islamophobic parties tend to oppose so-called "free trade" agreements.

Reporting on the far-right National Front party led by Marine Le Pen in France, The Economist has noted, "It is not just anti-immigrant but anti-globalization. It opposes free trade and free markets, displaying a strong protectionist streak."

Similarly, Italy's far-right deputy prime minister -- and leader of the Five Star Movement -- Luigi Di Maio opposes free trade.

The Five Star Movement has even identified opposition to free trade deals like the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) as a top foreign policy priority.

But as Julia Rone commented in The Washington Post, "Opposition to TTIP was not initially a radical-right issue in European countries like Germany, Bulgaria and the United Kingdom."

"Germany's radical-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) switched its position on TTIP in the middle of the 2014 European elections campaign, despite having originally supported the agreement," she adds.

Clearly, these parties and the governments they form must be opposed.

"AfD tried to join anti-TTIP marches organized by Stop TTIP coalition, but the party was rejected," Rone notes.

In Italy, the Five Star Movement-League coalition government -- formed on June 1 -- is considered to have a thin majority, with 347 seats in the 630-seat legislature, but it is also supported by the far-right Brothers of Italy party, which has 32 seats.

The Italian government's joint policy document contains "plans to build more detention centres to accelerate the deportation of an estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants" and "for 'unregistered' Roma camps to be shut down," according to The Guardian.

The government has already closed that country's ports to non-Italian migrant rescue ships that save the lives of refugees on the Mediterranean Sea. It has been estimated that 4,581 migrants died on the Mediterranean while en route to Italy in 2016.

The Italian government's agenda should be explicitly rejected and resisted, but instead Canada's foreign minister has worked to encourage it, to support CETA.

Chrystia Freeland met with Italy's prime minister (an Independent who is supported by both the Five Star Movement and the League) at the G7 summit in La Malbaie, Quebec this past June. Afterwards, Freeland expressed confidence that the Italian government would eventually support the Canada-EU agreement.

Barbara Perry, co-author of Uneasy Alliances: A Look at the Right-Wing Extremist Movement in Canada, has explained that the far right sees globalization "as a force that allows undeserving nations to benefit from our loss of jobs and control over our own economy."

Rather than seeing transnational corporations as problematic and undermining the living conditions for all, the far right is "more likely to blame those people who they see as competing for jobs, and particularly immigrants," she notes.

The left sees trade agreements as intensifying the exploitation of the working class and benefiting the capitalist elite, while the right sees trade agreements as harming the citizens of their own country and benefiting people in other countries, suggests Holger Janusch in International Policy Digest.

"Perhaps the biggest difference between left- and right-wing views of global trade is that while right-wing populists blame immigrants and foreign workers, progressives see workers across borders making common cause," argues Ruth Conniff in The Progressive.

And Lorenzo Marsili writes in Al Jazeera, "Nationalism directs social anger away from an unjust economic system and towards the foreigner."

Readers in Canada may be most familiar with U.S. President Donald Trump's opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Trump positioned himself as a populist opponent to free trade deals negotiated by Democratic administrations while vilifying Mexican migrants.

Now Trump praises the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement that favours Big Oil -- and locks in the privatization in Mexico's oil and gas sector -- and promotes the corporations that push food with genetically modified organisms, to the detriment of Mexican farmers.

Migrant rights, human rights, women's rights, labour rights, Indigenous rights, democracy, solidarity, inclusion and the protection of the environment must always be central in our critique of free trade deals and the foundation for our vision of a better world.

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer.

Photo: Jmersina/ Wikimedia Commons

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