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Council of Canadians calls for fair trade, rejects racism in anti-free trade arguments

The Council of Canadians rejects the politics of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, as well as the characterization that being critical of ‘free trade’ is the same as being isolationist.

The Globe and Mail editorial board states, “Free trade, it seems, is getting a bad rap these days. From England to America, globalized economies are being blamed for all manner of ills, from poverty to social inequity to alcoholism. The attacks are coming from both the left and the right. …[Donald Trump says] free trade is bad and protectionism is good, because it will bring back manufacturing jobs to Middle America that have been lost to China and Mexico. …[Bernie Sanders blames] free trade for the growing income inequality in the United States, and for social despair.”

The editorial board acknowledges, “Yes, there has been a human cost. Millions of well-paying manufacturing jobs have been exported from the U.S., Canada and Britain to places like China and Mexico. Not all of the people who lost those jobs have found equally well-paying work in the new economy, and wages have been stagnant. Plus, there is a worrying growth in the wealth gap between the ultra-rich and rest of us. The system has flaws and imbalances; it is not perfect and needs improvement.” But it notes, “Virtually every analysis of NAFTA concludes that the deal contributed to rapid growth and higher corporate profit margins.”

And they quote US President Barack Obama who recently stated, “The prescription of withdrawing from trade deals and focusing solely on your local market, that’s the wrong medicine.”

In a column that also appears in today’s Globe and Mail, Doug Saunders comments, “When the economy stalls, inequality rises and life becomes harder, there are two popular reactions. One is to reach beyond your borders to find something better in the larger world. The other is to put up walls, blame foreigners and try to isolate yourself from the world.” He goes as far to say, “A large part of the opposition to Canada-U.S. free trade in the 1980s was pure anti-Americanism.”

The Council of Canadians rejects the racist, sexist, anti-immigration and extreme right-wing politics of Donald Trump. And we note the hypocrisy that even The Globe and Mail highlights: “Mr. Trump is himself a free trader, a businessman who outsources the manufacture of products that bear his name to China and other places. He has grown wealthy in the era of liberalized markets.”

We also reject the framing of this political moment as free trade vs isolationism.

This misleading and binary construct leaves little room for a third choice: the progressive concept of ‘fair trade’ and the aspiration to build economies and trading relationships that are based on social and ecological justice, on the primacy of democratic rights over the profits of transnational corporations, and on the free movement of people rather than capital.

We believe that a successful economy is one that works for all, not one that just enriches the 1 per cent.

Free trade is a fundamental tenet – along with privatization and deregulation – of the neo-liberalism that is driving deepening inequality around the world. The “investment protection” or investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clauses in free trade agreements are what allows transnational corporations to directly sue national governments that pass laws against fracking, tar sands pipelines and other climate crimes. This provision also tramples on Indigenous rights and their ability to say no to major resource extraction projects. And it’s the “intellectual property rights” in free trade agreements that allow highly-profitable pharmaceutical corporations to secure the delay of less-costly generic and biosimilar drugs at the expense of human lives.

It is inexcusable for some politicians and newspapers to use the demagoguery of Trump and the bigotry of Boris Johnnson (who led the campaign for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union) to obscure this valid and progressive critique of the power free trade agreements give to transnational corporations and how those powers undermine our fundamental rights.

Opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other agreements is not “anti-trade”, but rather a rejection of “free trade” over “fair trade” and the powers these deals bestow on transnational corporations over our democratic and human rights.

We remain a committed member of the global trade justice movement that envisions inclusive, environmentally-sustainable, non-colonial, and democratic economies and trading relationships.