Skip to content

Should we feel optimistic about the NAFTA talks or deepen our resistance to neo-liberalism?

Steve Verheul, Canada’s chief NAFTA negotiator, during the 6th round of talks in Montreal.

Mainstream media reports are suggesting we should feel cautiously optimistic about the 6th round of NAFTA talks that concluded in Montreal today.

The Globe and Mail reports, “Canadian negotiators spent all last week presenting new ideas.” The Canadian Press notes, “Countries [are] seeking a pathway to solutions for the difficult problems” and that there is now “a glimmer of hope that the continental trade pact may yet be saved.” And the Toronto Star has reported, “Canada has made a bold offer to accept a controversial U.S. demand at the NAFTA talks about how to resolve commercial trade disputes.”

New ideas? Pathway to solutions? Glimmer of hope? Bold offer?

The CBC even reports that US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer “sounded hopeful” about the state of NAFTA talks. And just now, Lighthizer characterized the Montreal round of talks as “a step forward” but that he still hopes for “major breakthroughs” (presumably including an end to supply management).

A deeply neo-liberal US trade representative speaking on behalf of a racist president likes how things are going. Is that a good thing? The mainstream media consensus implies we should feel a sense of relief. That CBC report even threw in that Lighthizer is “a self-admitted curmudgeon”, which makes him sound more avuncular than dangerous.

There has been no critical commentary that Trudeau’s “bold” proposal would keep Canada under a corporate-friendly Chapter 11 investor-state dispute settlement regime that allows transnational corporations to sue for lost future profits most commonly against environmental protection legislation.

There has been no reference to the idea that Trudeau’s weakening of a proposed ‘sunset clause’ takes away a tool for the general public to be able to argue at regular intervals that NAFTA isn’t in the best interests of working people and the environment and should end in a managed and planned way.

And there seems to be little mainstream media reporting that the energy proportionality provision (that could now be expanded to include Mexico) worsens climate change, that keeping water listed as a tradable good is not the best idea as water becomes increasingly viewed as a commodity by transnational corporations rather than as a human right, and that there is little indication proposed (and secret) Indigenous and gender rights chapters would be strong and enforceable.

So where do social movements go next with this? If NAFTA talks are in less danger of imminent collapse, can we set the bar a little higher for what we expect from governments? Is it credible to think that deeply neo-liberal governments are going to negotiate a trade deal in the best interests of people and the planet?

More specifically, on what basis do we hope Trudeau will sign a NAFTA 2.0 we can accept after he ignored public opinion and negotiated a “progressive” Trans-Pacific Partnership that will be signed on March 8 (perhaps before the text is even made public)?

These are questions we may need to grapple with as the NAFTA talks approach the critical and concluding rounds in Mexico (February 26), the United States (late-March or early-April) and Canada (May).

It’s still unclear if the negotiations may be paused (for the July 1 election in Mexico and the November 6 midterm elections in the United States) or if Trump may still choose to try to rip up the deal, but we are also no longer in mid-August 2017 and the early days of the first round of the talks either.

As the real negotiations on NAFTA begin, as counter-proposals and concessions emerge, and as concluding rounds draw closer, social movements face the task of deepening our analysis. demanding more and strengthening our mobilizing strategies to be able to engage effectively in this political moment.