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Trudeau should be “open and honest” about NAFTA renegotiation

The Trudeau government “has an obligation to be open and honest” and “transparent through the entirety of the negotiations” on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). After all, Mr. Trudeau made the same demand of then-prime minister Stephen Harper about the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The Globe and Mail now reports, “[Canada’s ambassador to the U.S.] David MacNaughton expressed his desire to see the countries propose common-ground, common-sense ideas that improve the old agreement instead of flinging out hardball demands that could produce deep, drama-filled bargaining.”

MacNaughton generalizes, “We have done an extensive amount of work (to prepare for this). We have a good sense of what would be in Canada’s interest…. (But) the areas we need to focus on — and I think we are focusing on — is where is it not just in Canada’s interest, but in Canada and the United States’ interest… I think if we’re just blatantly trying to push something that works for us but doesn’t work for them, that’s not going to be… quite as easy.”

The news article adds, “MacNaughton wouldn’t elaborate on the specific improvements he has in mind, saying he wants to avoid negotiating in public.”

The Council of Canadians says that if NAFTA is to be renegotiated, then it must be fundamentally changed, meaning at minimum its investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), energy proportionality, and water as a good, service and investment provisions must be removed. We also argue that the negotiation process must be done in an accountable and transparent way that includes public consultations.

Investor rights

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow has written, “NAFTA was the first trade deal among developed countries to include an investor-state provision. It grants investors of the continent the right to sue one another’s governments without first pursuing legal action through the country’s legal system. As a result of NAFTA’s ISDS challenges, Canada is now the most sued developed country in the world. NAFTA give transnational corporations incredible new rights to impose their will on governments. But they are probably just the tip of the iceberg because many new laws or changes to laws never come to light because of the ‘chill effect’ of prior restraint. The Canadian government adopted a new policy soon after NAFTA was adopted whereby all new laws and any changes to existing laws have to be vetted by trade experts to ensure they could not be challenged under ISDS rules.”


Barlow has also noted, “One of the most egregious aspects of the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement was that it wiped out the long-standing Canadian policy that sufficient supplies to serve Canadian needs had to be guaranteed before exports were granted. Most important, the FTA, and NAFTA after it, placed strict limits on the ability of our government to curtail energy exports in times of Canadian need or for environmental purposes. The deals say that Canada must maintain at least the same level of oil and gas exports to the United States as it had supplied for the past thirty-six months. Only if Canadian consumption is cut proportionately, and then only in times of crisis, could the Canadian government claim jurisdiction over its own energy resources.”


And Barlow has highlighted, “The federal government should remove all references to water in all existing and upcoming trade and investment agreements as a good, a service or an investment, unless to allow for the specific protection or exclusion of water. Removing all references to water as a good from NAFTA would end the debate on whether the federal and provincial bans on water exports are sufficient, as it would remove any potential for a NAFTA challenge. Removing water as a service would help protect water as an essential public service. Removing it as an investment and excluding ISDS provisions would make it much harder for foreign corporations to use trade treaties to fight domestic or international rules that protect water.”

There has been no suggestion from the Trudeau government that these provisions are on its agenda to be removed from NAFTA. In fact, Ambassador MacNaughton is quoted in today’s news saying his aim is to “Make NAFTA work better, rather than throw out the baby with the bathwater.” And last November, Global News reported, “MacNaughton stopped short of disclosing details of what Canada would seek in an updated agreement, saying he’d prefer to save that for the discussion table.”

During the last federal election, Justin Trudeau stated this about the Conservative government’s negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership: “The Harper Conservatives have failed to be transparent through the entirety of the negotiations – especially in regards to what Canada is conceding in order to be accepted into this partnership. The government has an obligation to be open and honest about the negotiation process, and immediately share all the details of any agreement. Canadians deserve to know what impacts this agreement will have on different industries across our country.”

NAFTA is unacceptable and the Trudeau government’s approach to its renegotiation to date has also been unacceptable.