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Lessons from NAFTA 2.1. Future trade deals must be open to the public!

From the beginning, it was clear CUSMA was going to be a corporate-friendly trade agreement. With President Trump in the White House, the old NAFTA as a template, media hysteria around the possible loss of NAFTA, and corporations being granted preferential access to the negotiations, the stage was set. 

But in Canada, our arcane processes did not allow the public or parliamentarians in.  This must change.

Together with labour, citizen’s groups, environmental and faith groups in the three countries, we successfully campaigned to get rid of some of NAFTA’s most destructive provisions. While we succeeded in removing certain provisions like Chapter 11 and the energy proportionality clause, which we have fought against for decades, we were unable to prevent problematic new provisions like the erosion of farming conditions and corporate-friendly forums to impact regulations.

The next big trade negotiation must be different. From day one, social actors must be able to change the entire frame of the agreement. The government must publish its negotiating objectives and have them ratified by Parliament.  Negotiations must be open and involve municipalities, provinces, unions and environmental groups. Indigenous Peoples should be consulted as nations in trade agreements. Parliamentarians from all parties must be able to debate the contents of the agreement, not just its implementation.

We must ensure independent evaluations of trade agreements, not only examining economic impacts, but also environmental and social impacts. Many of our trade agreements, such as CETA and the South Korea agreement, have not resulted in increased Canadian exports. For too long, decision makers have relied on the idea that trade is good and all trade agreements are positive. Future agreements must be regularly evaluated to see whether they are actually benefiting us at all – something that isn’t happening with current agreements.

With so much at stake, it is not just industry stakeholders that are affected. Our health and our planet are at risk. Trade agreements rule how our globalized planet is run and there is much to be concerned about. Trade debate in Canada must reflect that.