CUSMA – The “new NAFTA”

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The Trudeau government says NAFTA 2.1 is the first order of business when Parliament resumes and the Liberals are urging other parties to swiftly ratify the deal.

But not so fast!

In the U.S., lawmakers, spurred on by newly elected U.S. House Democrats, worked over a year on the agreement. In Canada, parliamentarians and the public have had absolutely no meaningful input in the deal.

We can’t let this be a closed circuit, where corporations and the one per cent decide the future of NAFTA. We need a conversation on the fundamental issues – climate change, jobs, public services, family farms, Indigenous rights, inequality, and regulations – that this agreement affects.

With a minority government, it shouldn’t be business as usual. We must demand, at a minimum, a full study of the agreement in committee, and a robust national debate. The NDP and Bloc Québécois have said they want a full debate on the agreement. The Green Party has also traditionally opposed NAFTA.

You can speak up for democracy and fair trade. Take action! Contact Deputy Prime Minister and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Chyrstia Freeland  and your MP and ask for a robust review of this important trade deal.

The Council of Canadians has prepared the following analysis for Council of Canadians chapter members and supporters to use to help you have discussions in your chapter and community, contact Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and your local MP, and get the message out.

NAFTA: A timeline ►

The original NAFTA was signed in 1993. History has shown it has weakened labour rights, environmental protections, and helped corporations attack public interest regulations and the public sector. The Council of Canadians took up the fight against NAFTA and its Chapter 11 provisions that allow corporations to sue governments over environmental and public policy decisions that affect their profits. We argued against energy proportionality, which mandates Canada to export quotas of energy to the U.S. We also highlighted our concerns about NAFTA’s effects on public health care and public services, jobs, energy and the environment, water, and democracy.

When he was elected, U.S. President Donald Trump said NAFTA was a bad deal for the U.S. He vowed to either renegotiate the agreement on his terms, or the U.S. would withdraw. President Trump then hatched a deal with Mexico, saying that Canada had three weeks to come to the table with an agreement, or be turfed out of the deal.

During this process, Maude Barlow, Honorary Chair of the Council of Canadians, presented the Council of Canadian’s negotiating priorities in the report, Getting it Right: the People’s Guide to NAFTA, which was accompanied by action tools such as postcards, letters, polling information, factsheets and videos. Council of Canadians supporters sent more than 30,000 messages to their MPs. We also placed an ad on CBC’s Television show, The National.

At midnight on September 30, 2018, Canada, the U.S. and Mexico agreed to a rewrite of the NAFTA agreement, renaming it the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) in Canada and the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) in the U.S. The deal was swiftly ratified in Mexico and implementing legislation was presented in Canada. The Council of Canadians’ analysis is here.

However, it didn’t end there. In November 2018, U.S. midterms ushered in a majority of Democrats to the U.S. House of Representatives. With this new majority, Democrats vowed they would not ratify the agreement until important changes were made, including binding mechanisms to enforce labour and environmental rights, and the removal of provisions that would make biologic drugs more expensive which in turn would make a public, universal pharmacare program harder to afford.

The Council of Canadians campaigned to push pause on Canada’s implementing legislation, arguing that we must wait for U.S. progressive changes and fight against the new deal’s most toxic provisions. With the 2019 federal election, the implementing legislation was left abandoned on the order paper.

U.S. Democrats negotiated to make changes to the agreement. Canada and Mexico accepted these important changes, signing a new agreement on December 11, 2019. On Wednesday, January 29, 2020 President Trump signed the new NAFTA into law.

It is now Canada’s turn. According to Inside U.S. Trade, the agreement must sit 21 days before it is ratified by cabinet. Implementing legislation, the law that changes Canadian laws to conform to the agreement, must go through three readings in the House of Commons and in the Senate. At second reading, it can go to a committee for study. At this point, the new NAFTA must go to a committee to be fully examined and debated.

There is already pressure on the opposition to give unanimous consent to wave the prescribed procedure, which is not acceptable. Our jobs, environment, family farms, and our regulations are all at stake!

What’s at stake

Principles of Fair Trade ►

From the beginning it was clear CUSMA was going to be a corporate-friendly trade agreement. With President Trump in the White House, the old NAFTA as a template, media hysteria around the possible loss of NAFTA, and corporations being granted preferential access to the negotiations, the stage was set.

Together with labour, citizen’s groups, environmental and faith groups in the three countries, we successfully campaigned to get rid of some of NAFTA’s most destructive provisions. While we succeeded in removing certain provisions like Chapter 11 and the energy proportionality clause, which we have fought against for decades, we were unable to prevent problematic new provisions like the erosion of farming conditions and corporate-friendly forums to impact regulations.

The next big trade negotiation must be different. From day one, social actors must be able to change the entire frame of the agreement. Negotiations must be open and involve municipalities, provinces, unions and environmental groups. Indigenous Peoples should be consulted as nations in trade agreements. Parliamentarians from all parties must be able to debate the contents of the agreement, not just its implementation.

We must ensure independent evaluations of trade agreements, not only examining economic impacts, but also environmental and social impacts. Many of our trade agreements, such as CETA and the South Korea agreement, have not resulted in increased Canadian exports. For too long, decision makers have relied on the idea that trade is good and all trade agreements are positive. Future agreements must be regularly evaluated to see whether they are actually benefiting us at all – something that isn’t happening with current agreements.

With so much at stake, it is not just industry stakeholders that are affected. Our health and our planet are at risk. Trade agreements rule how our globalized planet is run and there is much to be concerned about. Trade debate in Canada must reflect that.

More to come.