Liberals Won’t Make Real Commitments on NAFTA: Steelworkers

OTTAWA – Only two days from the opening of North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiations, Canadians are still waiting for meaningful commitments from the federal government on jobs and labour and environmental standards.

“The U.S. and Mexico have for several weeks presented their detailed NAFTA priorities, while the Canadian government’s ‘progressive’ negotiating objectives remain high on rhetoric but short on specifics,” United Steelworkers (USW) National Director Ken Neumann said today.

“Negotiations are set to begin in two days. We are disappointed in the level of transparency and consultations thus far,” Neumann said following a hearing before the House of Commons Committee on International Trade, during which Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland discussed her government’s negotiating plans for the first time.

The Liberal government will pursue "progressive" elements in a renegotiated NAFTA, including stronger labour and environmental provisions as well as chapters on gender and Indigenous rights, Freeland said. 

However, the minister did not provide details on those protections, except to state that negotiators plan to use provisions from Canada's recently negotiated trade agreements with the European Union (CETA) and Chile as guidelines.

Freeland gave no indication that Canada would insist that NAFTA partners accept the United Nations’ International Labour Organization’s convention on union and collective bargaining rights that was recently ratified by the Canadian government.

“This government has so far failed to commit to meaningful, binding commitments on labour and environmental standards in a renegotiated NAFTA,” Neumann noted.

Neumann also decried Freeland’s commitment to maintain powers granted to corporations under NAFTA’s controversial Chapter 11, which covers investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms.

“The minister talks of a ‘reformed’ ISDS model in a renegotiated NAFTA. But investor-state dispute mechanisms cannot be reformed,” Neumann said.

“These provisions allow foreign corporations to undermine regulations and policies developed in the public interest. There is practically no civil society organization outside of the investor community that supports ISDS. We see no rational justification for it. It must be eliminated, not reformed.

“Canadians expect their government to deny multinational corporations the power to sue our country because they object to laws that protect our health, our environment and our jobs. Canadians expect their government to stand up for workers’ rights and good middle-class jobs, to strengthen environmental standards and to defend our key industries,” he said.

“Two days before NAFTA renegotiations begin, the Liberal government has provided no such commitments to Canadians.”


For further information:

Ken Neumann, USW National Director, 416-544-5951
Bob Gallagher, USW Communications, 416-544-5966, 416-434-2221, bgallagher@usw.ca

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