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Trudeau champions NAFTA and the TPP during US visit

Trudeau was interviewed by CNBC News yesterday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke favourably about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) while in the United States yesterday.

The Globe and Mail reports, “Trudeau says he’s not worried the election of Republican front-runner Donald Trump or Democratic contender Bernie Sanders could lead to the dismantling of the North American free-trade agreement. …The Prime Minister spoke glowingly about NAFTA and called for an ‘increasingly integrated North America’, but he was less pessimistic about the dangers to the trade deal, suggesting the political posturing is simply part of the election cycle.”

Trudeau also told CNBC, “I think we have to understand that trade is ultimately good, not just for our countries, but for our businesses and our workers. I’m not worried that we’re going to suddenly reopen NAFTA or other trade deals: The challenge is once you reopen it a little bit, they all tend to unravel, and it’s too important for both of our economies to continue to have a strong trading relationship.”

This would suggest that Trudeau would not be open to the idea that the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provision in NAFTA should be renegotiated, despite the recent US$15 billion ISDS challenge by Calgary-based TransCanada against the US for rejecting the 830,000 barrel per day Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, nor the ISDS amendments Canada has endorsed in the yet-to-be-ratified Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

And in response to a question about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Trudeau stated, “In our conversations with Canadians, with industries which are ongoing, there are a lot of people in favour of it and there are a few who have real concerns and we’re looking at understanding and allaying certain fears and building on some of the opportunities.”

But Trudeau’s take on how Canadians feel about the TPP runs contrary to what the polls are saying.

An EKOS poll in October 2015 found that 41 per cent of Canadians support the TPP, while 38 per cent oppose it. An Angus Reid Institute poll this February found that 32 per cent of Canadians support joining the TPP, 20 per cent oppose it, and 49 per cent do not have an opinion.

That is at best lukewarm support for the deal and the gap widens significantly on specific questions. The EKOS poll found:

– 61 per cent say the TPP will mean job losses in Canada (24 per cent disagree)

– 49 per cent say it will mean greater income inequality in Canada (30 per cent disagree)

– 45 per cent say it mean environmental damage in Canada (36 per cent disagree)

– 72 per cent say it won’t mean higher wages in Canada (11 per cent disagree)

Trudeau’s views are also in contrast to both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump who oppose the TPP and who have described NAFTA as a disaster.

Thomas Frank recently commented in The Guardian, “To judge by how much time he spent talking about it, trade may be [Donald Trump’s] single biggest concern – not white supremacy. Not even his plan to build a wall along the Mexican border, the issue that first won him political fame. …It seems to obsess him: the destructive free-trade deals our leaders have made, the many companies that have moved their production facilities to other lands, the phone calls he will make to those companies’ CEOs in order to threaten them with steep tariffs unless they move back to the US.”

Frank then notes, “I have no special reason to doubt the suspicion that Donald Trump is a racist. Either he is one, or (as the comedian John Oliver puts it) he is pretending to be one, which amounts to the same thing. But there is another way to interpret the Trump phenomenon. A map of his support may coordinate with racist Google searches, but it coordinates even better with deindustrialization and despair, with the zones of economic misery that 30 years of Washington’s free-market consensus have brought the rest of America. …The obvious reality [is that] Trumpism is just a crude and ugly expression: that neoliberalism has well and truly failed.”

Trudeau may see ‘political posturing in the election cycle’, but Council of Canadians trade campaigner Sujata Dey has commented, “In Europe, many of the right-wing parties such as France’s Front National or Poland’s Law and Justice Party are opposing free trade agreements. At the same time, from the left of the spectrum, voices such as Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn are also targeting free trade. …In the meantime, the centre and centre-left fail to gain steam. There is a reason for this. It is important for all political parties to address these issues. Inequality, whether determined by income, gender, race, disability or sexual orientation, is very much alive. And these deals are not making it better.”

For more from Brent, follow him on Twitter at @CBrentPatterson