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Will the next US president do a turnaround on the TPP as Chretien did on NAFTA in ’93?

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow will be speaking in Toronto against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on November 8, the evening of the presidential election in the United States.

While many polls show Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton virtually tied, the projections for the electoral college vote favour Clinton. There can be no certainty until the votes are counted, but 538.com puts the odds at 67 per cent that Clinton will win the election and become the next US president on January 20, 2017.

Where do the candidates stand on the TPP?

The New York Times reported after the Clinton-Trump debate on September 26, “That neither candidate came to the defense of trade and trade agreements underscored a remarkable feature of this presidential election: Both major parties’ nominees are running against such pacts, despite the long pro-trade tradition of the Republican Party, and Mrs. Clinton’s past endorsement of the signature trade agreements of her husband [Bill Clinton] and her former boss, [Barack] Obama. Mrs. Clinton did offer qualified support: ‘We are 5 percent of the world’s population; we have to trade with the other 95 percent. And we need to have smart, fair trade deals.’ No such acknowledgment came from Mr. Trump.”

The article adds, “Mr. Trump recalled that Mrs. Clinton called the accord ‘the gold standard’ of trade deals. That was during Mr. Obama’s first term, when she was secretary of state and the accord was midway through years of negotiations. ‘Well, Donald, I know you live in your own reality, but that is not the facts,’ Mrs. Clinton said. ‘The facts are I did say I hoped it would be a good deal. But when it was negotiated, which I was not responsible for, I concluded it wasn’t.’ As secretary of state, however, Mrs. Clinton did not talk of what she ‘hoped’ the deal would be. More than 40 times she hailed the accord without qualification.”

And the article notes, “Repeatedly [Trump] condemned the North American Free Trade Agreement, negotiated under President George H. W. Bush and championed through Congress by [former president Bill Clinton], calling it ‘the single worst trade deal ever approved in this country’ and ‘one of the worst things that ever happened to the manufacturing industry.’ In reply — ‘Well, that’s your opinion,’ she said — Mrs. Clinton declined to engage on the specific merits of NAFTA… She noted generally that manufacturing jobs and personal incomes increased during [Bill Clinton’s] presidency, adding, ‘I think my husband did a pretty good job in the 1990s.'”

Many Canadians will remember then-Liberal leader Jean Chretien’s pledge during the October 25, 1993 election campaign to “renegotiate” NAFTA.

The Liberal campaign platform stated, we “will renegotiate both the FTA [the bilateral Free Trade Agreement with the United States] and NAFTA to obtain … a subsidies code, an anti-dumping code, a more effective dispute resolution mechanism and the same energy protection as Mexico.”

By December 3, 1993, just thirty-eight days after the election, the Chicago Tribune reported, “Breaking a campaign promise, Prime Minister Jean Chretien declared that Canada will implement the North American Free Trade Agreement Jan. 1 [1994]. After failing to get the Clinton administration to reopen NAFTA to correct concerns of his newly installed Liberal government, Chretien opted to accept side deals and assurances from U.S. and Mexican officials as enough to clinch the deal. ‘I am very satisfied with the progress we have made’, Chretien told a news conference in Ottawa, though he acknowledged that NAFTA still is not ‘a perfect situation’ for Canada.”

That Chicago Tribune article quoted Barlow who commented, “Just as Mr. Clinton said he would never pass George Bush’s NAFTA, and then did, Mr. Chretien said he would never pass [former Tory Prime Minister Brian] Mulroney’s NAFTA, and he’s about to, with not one word of change.”

It’s a very real possibility that a President Clinton (or even a President Trump) could do the same turnaround that Prime Minister Chretien did twenty-four years ago.

And while the TPP would also have to be navigated through the United States Congress, if the US approves the TPP, then Canada would very likely as well. Late last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated, “It’s difficult to imagine a world where Canada would turn its back on three of its top five trading partners. We established very clearly during the campaign that we’re a pro-trade party.”

The Trans-Pacific Partnership includes G7 ‘major advanced economies’ (the United States, Canada and Japan), G20 ‘major economies’ (Australia and Mexico), relatively smaller economies (New Zealand and Singapore) and ‘developing economies’ (Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Peru and Vietnam). A Tufts University report projected that the TPP would lead to employment losses in all countries, with a total of 771,000 lost jobs. It also contains the controversial investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provision which could be used to violate community and Indigenous rights. And its patent provisions would lead to higher prescription drug costs.

The TPP signatory governments are expected to try to ratify the agreement by February 2018.