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Protectionists, isolationists, and racists, oh my!

Photo: Maude Barlow, Chair of the Council of Canadians at a massive rally in Stuttgart, Germany against CETA and TTIP. (Council of Canadians)

So the unthinkable has happened: cowboy Trump has been elected President of the United States.  He says he will rip up NAFTA, send the Trans-Pacific Partnership to the shredder and build a wall with Mexico. And the Obama administration has said that it won’t try to pass it in the lame duck period, rendering the deal dead.

Up to election day, Canadians had remained smug, declaring that Canada was different. While “waves of protectionism and racism” spread around the globe, we got onto the cover of The Economist as being oh so different. As the magazine’s Canadian correspondent Madeleine Drohan explained, “The editor of The Economist came up with a question that superseded the story. Why, she asked, was Canada not seeing anti-immigration and anti-globalization protests like those that had led to Brexit in Britain, the rise of Donald Trump in the U.S. and populist movements in Europe?”

On November 6th, on CBC Radio’s Sunday Morning, while defending CETA, the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland gloated, “One of the things which is so important, I think, about Canada right now, is we have broad national support that very much crosses party lines, for what I like to call the open society. For being open to immigrants, for understanding that we need to be part of the global economy.”

Again, the underlying thoughts was that those who oppose trade agreements are racists and backward people who want to go back to another time, who are against an open society and who hate diversity and immigration.

But this misses a large part of the picture. I was recently in Brussels and Strasbourg talking to European Parliamentarians and Walloon politicians and civil society.  Paul Magnette, the prime minister of Belgium’s Wallonia region, whose opposition to the proposed Canada-Europe trade agreement, was supported by 73 per cent of the population, cannot be reduced to some volatile right-wing bigot. His was a measured, well researched and thoughtful analysis of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

In Germany, a country where hundreds of thousands came out to oppose trade agreements, and where, incidentally, the Syrian refugee intake has been exponentially higher than Canada’s, a majority of popular opinion is against CETA and the proposed TTIP pact between the United States and Europe. During much of the process, Austria’s Social Democratic chancellor, Christian Kern, expressed numerous objections to signing CETA and abandoned them only in the weeks before the deal was signed. Green and Left Parties in the European Union are also very concerned about trade agreements for environmental and social justice reasons, not because they want to build walls around Europe.

In the U.S., Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have maintained a coherent intellectual tradition in opposition to trade agreements for their effects on the commons, not because they dislike Latinos or Black people. But why then are all opponents of trade deals put in the same basket as Donald Trump?

Celeste Drake, a trade and globalization specialist at the AFL-CIO and a Trump opponent, says, “No matter what we say, the global business community and it allies will try to smear our critique with charges of protectionism, nationalism, isolationism and even racism. Our message is not one of hate or isolation and never has been. I think we need not fear our positions. Our positions elevate the power of the people vis-à-vis corporate power. Our positions are against neoliberalism.” 

Yes, Trump has poked a major wound in the prevailing economic outlook, capitalizing on globalization and how neoliberal economics has shifted power to an elite, concentrated wealth in the hands of a few and made states powerless to act. As Alexa Conradi pointed out in Ricochet, “Among Americans who think that free trade is bad for employment, 65 per cent voted for Trump. In the U.K., among those who voted for Brexit, 69 per cent believe the global economy is a force of evil. And among people in the U.S. who believe that the economy is bad, 79 per cent opted for Trump. Same thing in people unemployed in the U.K.: a majority voted to leave the EU. Interestingly, in the U.K., half of the “Leavers” and “Remainers” consider capitalism as a force of evil.”

Unfortunately, the political centre, and some progressives, have endorsed many of these policies, seeing no alternative to corporate-led globalization, paralyzed by a global system that leaves states unable to act. In a way, with their inability to react to a growing need, they are defeating themselves.  They are also fanning the flames of these right-wing populist movements.

So should Canadians rejoice in the fact that our country is more open? On the one hand, we have done somewhat better at integrating immigrants. Well, luckily for us, we are also among the most geographically isolated of countries, so we don’t have to worry about Syrians or Mexicans swarming illegally across our borders. We can be smug in accepting, for the most part, only the most highly educated immigrants, who are generally better educated than the general population. We can also ignore own traditions of systemic racism and colonialization of First Nations people.

We can be self-satisfied in knowing that, despite all the free trade agreements we sign, 75 per cent of our exports go to the United States. So, our “global” presence is a theoretical thing, not a real thing. In fact we are so dependent on the U.S. that we are willing to placate President-elect Trump who is threatening to tear up NAFTA. We are even ready to renegotiate. 

Remember how free trade was about common values, of openness, anti-racism and immigration? These are the “shared values” we hold in common with Europe, enshrined in our “progressive” Harper-era CETA agreement. Well, apparently “shared values” are just something we use to sell free trade agreements.  Our cool “feminist” Prime Minister just tweeted, “I congratulate President-elect Donald Trump on his election victory in the United States. Our shared values are strong.”

So shared values apply to Donald Trump?

Again, who are the racists, isolationists and protectionists?

This blog first appeared in the Huffington Post.