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The Council calls for open and honest NAFTA renegotiation process

The Trudeau government has signalled to the incoming Trump administration that its willing to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

CBC reports, “Canada’s ambassador to the United States says the Liberal government would be ‘happy’ to renegotiate NAFTA with president-elect Donald Trump’s team. ‘Obviously any trade deal can be improved, and to the degree that the president-elect of the United States wants to see improvements to NAFTA, we’d be happy to sit down and talk’, Ambassador David MacNaughton told CBC News Network’s Power & Politics. ‘We’ve got some things I think we’d like to see, and happy to have that discussion with him when he settles in’, MacNaughton told host Rosemary Barton.”

What those “things” are that could be renegotiated, the Liberal government is not revealing to the public.

But the article notes, “Central to that discussion will be working to improve NAFTA, without harming a deal that MacNaughton says has brought so much economic prosperity to the continent.” Prosperity? Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow has commented, “Since NAFTA came into force on January 1, 1994, we’ve seen the loss of well over half a million manufacturing jobs in Canada, the net loss of 1 million jobs in the United States, and the displacement of millions of Mexican farmers. Employment trends suggest part-time precarious jobs with fewer benefits, while the income disparity in all three countries continues to grow.”

MacNaughton says, “Any agreement can be improved. If they want to have a discussion about reopening NAFTA, we’re ready to come to the table.” Global News notes, “MacNaughton stopped short of disclosing details of what Canada would seek in an updated agreement, saying he’d prefer to save that for the discussion table.”

But why the secrecy? Where’s the transparency?

During the last federal election, Trudeau stated this about the Conservative government’s negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership: “The Harper Conservatives have failed to be transparent through the entirety of the negotiations – especially in regards to what Canada is conceding in order to be accepted into this partnership. The government has an obligation to be open and honest about the negotiation process, and immediately share all the details of any agreement. Canadians deserve to know what impacts this agreement will have on different industries across our country.”

Is the controversial investor-state dispute settlement likely to be renegotiated? It wouldn’t seem so. The line so far from Trudeau’s Global Affairs Department has been: “NAFTA Chapter 11 establishes a framework that provides investors with a predictable, rules-based investment climate. While disputes are a normal part of every trade relationship, they represent a very small portion of the billions of dollars in investment that Canada attracts and the billions that Canadian companies invest abroad.”

Could NAFTA’s proportionality clause be on the table? That’s the provision that states Canada is obligated to make a certain proportion of its total supply of oil and gas available for sale to the United States. This de facto mandatory exporting clause affects our ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Given the climate crisis, this clause is an obvious provision to remove.

But the Liberals likely only want minimal changes. While visiting Washington this past March, Trudeau told CNBC: “I’m not worried that we’re going to suddenly reopen NAFTA or other trade deals: The challenge is once you reopen it a little bit, they all tend to unravel, and it’s too important for both of our economies to continue to have a strong trading relationship.”

The Council of Canadians has long called for the renegotiation of NAFTA. This past June, an Angus Reid Institute poll found that only 1 in 4 Canadians support the deal, with more than one-third wanting it renegotiated.

With that in mind, we are calling for an open, transparent and democratic process, not another secretly negotiated deal. Public hearings should be held. There should also be consultations with First Nations and Indigenous peoples. We call on the Liberal government to be open and honest about the NAFTA renegotiation process and immediately disclose what its seeking with the Trump administration.