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A promise is a promise! Liberal government should end back-room, corporate trade negotiations

Free trade agreements have consistently worked against the interests of people and the planet. Trade deals are hatched in secret, with corporate interests represented around the table. The Council of Canadians and our labour, environment and civil society allies have to fight tooth and nail to overhaul these corporate-friendly deals.

Canada has one of the least transparent trade processes in the G7. Trade agreements are agreed to in cabinet meetings behind closed doors. Parliament doesn’t vote on whether or not to accept the agreement, just on the agreement’s implementation.

Most of our elected representatives do not even have a say in how the deal is made. As well, there is no citizen oversight and no requirement to consult the public. Countries in the EU and the U.S. ensure government oversight of trade processes by requiring the negotiating mandate (the list of what the government hopes to accomplish in their trade negotiations) be passed by Congress or the EU Parliament, requiring economic analysis of proposed agreements, and mandating public consultation. In the EU and the U.S., these mandates are published and open to debate, unlike in Canada.

In Canada, there is no requirement to do economic analysis of our trade agreements. When independent groups such as the Parliamentary Budget Office have analyzed trade agreements, they have found that the benefits are minimal and overstated by the government. For example, with the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Europe (CETA), Canada has not increased its exports at all, a lack of growth predicted by economic analysis. But CETA has increased the costs of drugs, led to job losses and hurt farmers.

In March, Council of Canadians members pushed the government to open the process for future trade agreements. Thanks to our advocacy, NDP MP Daniel Blaikie negotiated a new process that would be a game-changer, giving people more power by, requiring Parliament to:

  1. Debate the government’s mandate before it is given to trade negotiators;
  2. Consult a Parliamentary Committee to ensure Canadians’ input; and
  3. Submit economic analysis of any future agreement.

These demands were quickly adopted by all parties: from the Bloc Québécois to the Conservatives. Chrystia Freeland, then Foreign Affairs minister, agreed to these changes in exchange for help from the NDP when passing the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA). 

Procedurally, it is a simple regulatory change that can be done without too much trouble. But this simple change would give us much more power over undemocratic trade deals. Unfortunately, the government has not acted on these changes and our trade processes are as murky as ever.

Now, after Brexit, Canada is in trade talks with Britain. Repeating the same opaque process, the government is drafting another free trade agreement behind closed doors. You can bet that the same business interests are represented around the table. I imagine that corporate courts and the relaxation of supply management rules are on the table – and I’d wager that the environment and justice are not part of the equation.

Please don’t let this happen. I need your help to hold the government accountable. They must not backtrack on this important change.

Write to Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and Trade Minister Mary Ng today. Now that Parliament is back, we must get to the business of protecting people and the planet.