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Day says, ‘There’s ways of accommodating (US) environmental concerns and the labour concerns’

This past week we heard US President Barack Obama demand that labour and environmental side agreements be incorporated into the main text of NAFTA.

We are now hearing from Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Trade Minister Stockwell Day that they are open to addressing President Obama’s concerns, but seemingly with the assertion that NAFTA would not need to be renegotiated to accomplish this.

At the joint media conference in Ottawa on Thursday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said, “We’re perfectly willing to look at ways we can address some of these concerns which I understand without opening the whole NAFTA and unravelling what is a very complex agreement…”

In an interview on Friday with the Canwest News Service and Global National, Trade Minister Stockwell Day said, “There was lots of speculation that President Mr. Obama wanted to do a wholesale renegotiation of NAFTA. We understand now that that’s not on and we think there’s ways of accommodating the environmental concerns and the labour concerns.”

At Thursday’s media conference in Ottawa, US President Barack Obama said, “I also indicated that with a NAFTA agreement that has labour provisions and environmental provisions as side agreements, strikes me if those side agreements mean anything they might as well be incorporated into the main body of the agreement so they can be effectively enforced.”

While Senator Barack Obama was campaigning for the Democratic nomination last year, he made these statements:

Investor rights:
“While NAFTA gave broad rights to investors, it paid only lip service to the rights of labor and the importance of environmental protection… We should amend NAFTA to make clear that fair laws and regulations written to protect citizens in any of the three countries cannot be overridden simply at the request of foreign investors.”

Labour rights:
“We’ll add binding obligations to protect the right to collective bargaining and other core labor standards recognized by the International Labor Organization. And I will add enforceable measures to NAFTA, the World Trade Organization (WTO), CAFTA [Central America Free Trade Agreement] and other Free Trade Agreements (FTA’s) currently in effect.”

“The rights of working people should be equal to those of commercial interests and their protections in trade agreements should be the same. Again, this was a fundamental failing in the NAFTA and CAFTA agreements.”

Environmental rights:
“We must add binding environmental standards so that companies from one country cannot gain an economic advantage by destroying the environment.”

“The protection of the environment is just as critical as the protection of commercial interests and must be subject to the same mechanism for protection.”

1. Can the labour and environmental side agreements simply be incorporated into the main text of NAFTA without some further renegotiation? What would that process look like?

2. Would the move to incorporate labour and environmental side agreements require some renegotiation of the investor-state clause, as implied by Obama’s earlier comments?

3. What would be the impact (positive and negative) of incorporating these side agreements?

4. How do Harper and Day think they can address Obama’s environmental and labour concerns and not re-open NAFTA?

5. How can NGOs and unions take the US demand to incorporate side agreements and leverage that into a much fuller renegotiation to address the concerns we have about the energy provisions, water, services and more?

Day’s quote is at

Harper and Obama’s comments from the media conference are at http://www.cbc.ca/news/pdf/obama-harper-transcriptfull.pdf

Senator Obama’s comments on labour and environmental rights are at