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Trudeau plays lip service to progressive trade, but communities live it

Progressive trade is something that we hear a lot about.  The federal government has staked its lot on rhetorically changing the nature of trade agreements.

Progressive trade is often a nebulous concept.  That is why the Council of Canadians and Unifor are trying to put some meat on the idea.  On April 20th and 21st, they held two Hamilton events, a Unifor People’s Trade Town Hall and a Council of Canadians regional trade forum.  It was hosted by the Hamilton chapter of the Council of Canadians and Unifor.

The first night, open to the public, started with a key note speech by Maude Barlow, Council of Canadians honorary chairperson and long-time trade critic  detailing what trade agreements have become.  She said that in her experience of watching thirty years of trade agreements, that they are no longer about tariff reduction, but transnational power.  She detailed the ways in which trade agreements lock in privatization of public services, create competition to the bottom on labour and environmental standards and lock in countries into fossil fuel futures. Her plea: there is no better time to take on trade agreements when people are becoming more aware of the ravages of globalization.

She was followed by an instructive session by Unifor trade researcher Angelo Di Caro who broke down the often-technical language of trade agreements.  His argument:  trade agreements have not resulted in more trade for Canada nor have they created the wealth they are purported to create. Small groups discussed ideas on how trade could truly serve people.

On Saturday, the Hamilton Chapter of the Council of Canadians and other chapters, led by the crackerjack organizer Kathie Clark, put together a day-long session to delve deep into the problems and solutions around trade.  Twelve chapters attended as well as individuals from Southern Ontario labour, environmental, and social justice groups. People drove from as far away as Windsor and Peterborough to participate. 

The discussions were on seven themes: Food, Agriculture, and Supply Management, Indigenous rights and Trade, Dispute Resolution, Environmental Issues and Natural Resources, Jobs and the Economy, Public Services and Intellectual Property and Pharmaceuticals.  These workshops were led by facilitators but informed by experts who researched the issues.

At the plenary, people put together their ideas on what progressive trade would look like and how we would get there Some ideas included:

  • enshrining community benefit agreements in trade agreements,

  • giving teeth to ILO and climate agreements

  • ensuring that Indigenous people’s are not add-ons but an integral part to understanding our first trading relation in Canada

  • putting small farmers around the table so that they can resist the pressure of large multinationals

  • instead of adding positive or negative lists which encourage privatization of public services, having no list and assuming that countries will keep services public instead, and

  • refusing to align intellectual property rules with those of the U.S.

Instead of airy preambles and beautiful sounding prose on the beauty of progressive trade, activists are asking the government to put some teeth on the concept of progressive trade.  In order to find solutions to the problems of international trade, we must start with the community. 

In the future, we will be preparing and presenting a report on our findings, and perhaps, working on progressive trade reflection days in other parts of the country.  Stay tuned.

Many thanks to:

The Unifor folks: Roland Kiehne, Angelo Di Caro, Daniel Tseghay, Sam Vrankulj; Gwen Campbell, Emily Heikoop, Glenn Westoby

The Council of Canadians organizers and chapter members:  Mark Calzavara and Rachel Small, Ontario and Québec organizers, Lin Grist, Fiona McMurran, David Lubell,, Randy Emerson, Kathie Clark, Roy Brady, Doug Hayes, Brent Patterson, Political Director.

Resource People: Angella MacEwan, Canadian Labour Congress, Beze Gray, Amy Janzwood, Michael Temelini, National Union of Public Government Employees, Maude Barlow, Honorary Chairperson, Council of Canadians Brian Griffiths, National Farmers’ Union.

Facilitators and Recorder/Reporters: Fiona McMurran, Joanne McDonald, Angelo Di Caro, Gwen Campbell, Lin Grist, Ann Brett Hall, Roy Brady, Herb Wiseman, Don McLean, Ruth Pickering, Vanessa Grey, Randy Emerson, Doug Hayes, Malcolm Buchanan, Sharon Sommerville

And to Maude Barlow, for her continued leadership on trade in Canada and all over the world.

Photos by Rachel Small and Sujata Dey.