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GUEST OPINION: Let’s not cheer for the new NAFTA

Rosalind Waters of the Guatemala-Maritimes Breaking the Silence Network submitted this photo of people protesting the USMCA trade agreement that replaces NAFTA.
Rosalind Waters of the Guatemala-Maritimes Breaking the Silence Network submitted this photo of people protesting the USMCA trade agreement that replaces NAFTA. - Contributed

Justin Trudeau seemed to be in a rush to get the USMCA (the new NAFTA) pushed through Parliament last week.

What is the rush? Particularly given that research shows NAFTA termination would have minimal economic impact. Were we supposed to be cheering him on?

With the recent release of the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change demanding deep and far reaching action on climate change one would think there might be reason for pause. Many rules created by “free trade” agreements obstruct climate action.

Climate change of the last 200 years is the product of a global economy deeply dependent on fossil fuels. Any policy that directly or indirectly encourages further production and consumption of coal, oil and natural gas is a failure for our planet and, by extension, our economy.

The USMCA prevents Canada from limiting the exports of energy products and oil. This could interfere with important climate policies aimed at reducing international or local supply. Furthermore, a U.S.-Canada side letter on energy guarantees access to each other’s pipelines for importing and exporting fossil fuels.

The deal obstructs government policies which give preference to local renewable energy co-operatives (a strategy which, in the early 1980s, enabled Denmark to garner broad public support for a successful transition to wind power). It restricts the use of locally tailored procurement policies as a tool to promote local green economic development. It could prohibit publicly owned or government regulated inter-city public transit and interfere with the creation of new public services which could provide good green jobs.

The USMCA also fails to adequately address many of the long-term problems caused by NAFTA: wage stagnation, rising inequality and loss of food sovereignty. In the meantime, it will contribute to drug cost increases for Islanders and erode the supply-management system which provides our dairy farmers with decent livelihoods.

People of all ages in P.E.I. buy cosmetics and jewelry, often unaware of the intense lobbying of industry groups such as The Canadian Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association and the American Chemistry Council for deregulation of chemicals (including hormone disruptors) used in their manufacturing processes.

The USMCA gives more teeth to corporate interference in the regulation of chemicals. The regulatory co-operation chapter increases the ability of industry lobbyists to nip anticipated public protection regulation in the bud on the basis that it interferes with trade.

The “free trade” agenda is embattled. There is no question about that. Even the United Nations is raising alarm bells. Earlier this year an UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) report called for a new multilateral trade and investment regime with shared prosperity and sustainable development as its core goals.

It advanced a new set of principles for trade in the “Geneva Principles for a Global Green New Deal” and concluded:

“Rolling back the numerous free trade agreements and bi-lateral investments treaties, which have been particularly destructive of policy space, is a priority.”

Trudeau is flogging a dead horse, when he extols “free trade”. Our trade regime will have to change because it stands in the way of meaningful global progress. So, let’s not cheer on the USMCA.

Rosalind Waters is a member Guatemala-Maritimes Breaking the Silence Network, a member group of Trade Justice P.E.I., and wrote this in collaboration with other members of the Trade Justice P.E.I. coalition. She lives in Georgetown-Royalty, P.E.I.

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