Canada wants ‘progressive’ trade deal with U.S., Mexico, Freeland says

TheStar.com – News/Canada – Foreign Affairs minister used Monday morning speech to lay out broad strokes of Canada’s objectives going into negotiations for a new North American Free Trade Agreement.
Aug. 14, 2017.   By TONDA MACCHARLES, Ottawa Bureau reporter, BRUCE CAMPION-SMITH, Ottawa Bureau

OTTAWA—Canada will push for a “progressive” new trade deal with the United States and Mexico that raises labour standards, strengthens environmental protections and includes measures to boost economic opportunities for women while attempting to defuse Washington’s protectionist zeal.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland used a morning speech and parliamentary committee appearance to lay out the broad strokes of Canada’s objectives going into this week’s negotiations for a new North American Free Trade Agreement and to emphasize Canada goes into the talks with a strong hand.

“The electricity in Trump Tower comes from Quebec,” said Freeland, when asked how provinces will be involved in the talks. “So our American colleagues must always remember the importance of our economic ties.”

Freeland said Canada seeks to make the updated deal more “progressive” through five key provisions including: stronger labour safeguards; strengthening environmental provisions to protect the right to address climate change; adding a new chapter on gender rights; adding an Indigenous chapter; and reforming the investor-state dispute settlement process to protect governments’ right to regulate “in the public interest.”

On gender, Freeland said the proposed text will draw from a chapter added to the Canada-Chile free trade agreement earlier this year, which she hailed as a “great step.”

That wording highlights the importance of considering trade issues from a gender perspective and commits both countries to co-operate on issues of trade and gender, such as encouraging women’s entrepreneurship.

Freeland noted Canada and the U.S. already have a track record of co-operation in this area, started earlier this year when Prime Minster Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump launched a joint effort to promote women entrepreneurs and business leaders.

“We already have something of a track record of working effectively with this U.S. administration on issues of particular concern to women,” Freeland said. “So I think there is a really fruitful space for discussion.”

Derek Burney, a former ambassador to Washington who was on hand to hear Freeland speak Monday, wouldn’t speculate on Ottawa’s call for the inclusion of chapters on Indigenous people and on gender. But he wondered “how relevant it is to these negotiations, how receptive a government that’s going in a different direction” will be.

“I think there’s a lot of ‘sturm and drung’ on culture, and progressiveness and all of that, that have to play out. But what they will produce in terms of an agreement, I don’t know.”

Freeland said “Team Canada” goes into negotiations that formally begin Wednesday in Washington with overriding priorities for a revised NAFTA. The aim is to:

  • Accommodate the technology revolution and the rise of the digital economy;
  • Cut red tape and harmonize cross-border regulations;
  • Open up access to government procurement contracts to exempt Canadian suppliers from “Buy America” policies;
  • Provide for freer movement of business professionals;
  • Ensure fair processes around government moves to impose anti-dumping and countervailing duties and exempt Canadian culture and Canada’s system of supply management.

For all those ambitions, Canada faces a protectionist, unpredictable president in the White House. And Freeland also made clear there are elements Canada wants to preserve, stressing, for example, Ottawa’ commitment to the country’s supply management system, notably around dairy products in the face of U.S. demands for greater access.

Conservative MP Randy Hoback underscored the stakes ahead, telling the Commons’ trade committee, “If we don’t get it right, I think we’ll actually go backwards.”

Burney said Freeland’s speech and tone were “right on,” but he warned the big unknown in the talks now is Trump.

“I don’t think there’s going to be disagreement about modernizing NAFTA. The issue for me is, ‘what’s the price of victory for Donald Trump?’” Burney said.

“I don’t know what Donald Trump wants, and I don’t think any of us know.”

Steve Verheul, the negotiator who most recently led the Canadian side in trade talks with the European Union, said the U.S. style of negotiating is “very different” than the one Canada faced with the Europeans. But he said Canada will be ready to tackle whatever comes up at the 28 separate bargaining tables, where elements of the new deal will be hammered out.

“We’ve been doing a lot of research on what the U.S. will be looking for, not looking just at their stated negotiated objectives but well beyond that,” he told MPs at a committee hearing Monday.

Verheul offered no promises whether negotiations might be complete by year’s end, saying only “negotiations are difficult to predict.”

“They always have a certain rhythm. You never know when you’re going to get stalled, when you’re going to get delayed or when you’re going to make huge breakthroughs,” he said.

He said he expects some quick successes to be found on improving “antiquated” customs procedures to speed cross-border movement of goods.

“In the first few rounds we’ll be laying the groundwork, dealing with the easy issues, getting them out of the way … as you gradually go on, you focus in on those most difficult issues that will require some political direction,” Verheul said.

In her appearances Monday, Freeland touted the benefits of the existing trade deal, saying it has been an “extraordinary success” to all three economies, and pushed back at Trump’s claim that NAFTA has been a disaster.

But she cautioned that unless deliberate steps are taken to spread the economic wealth of improved trade, divisions will grow in Canadian society.

“There are too many communities in our prosperous nation where people do not feel prosperous,” Freeland said.

“If we don’t act now, Canadians may lose faith in the open society, in immigration and in free trade, just as many have across the Western industrialized world,” she told an audience at the University of Ottawa.

“This is the single biggest economic and social challenge we face. Addressing this problem is our government’s overriding mission,” she said.

What does it mean to have “progressive” chapters on gender or Indigenous people? Even experts don’t yet know.

The Canadian team could try to get language in the deal that would encourage all governments to meet their obligations under international or United Nations treaties or conventions, said Debra Steger, a professor who holds the Hyman Soloway chair in business and trade law at the University of Ottawa.

In an interview, Steger said she could envisage a gender equality chapter that would commit the parties to implement obligations such as the UN sustainable development goals, which commits countries to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.”

“They might have a statement about implementing that, and they could have some other goals in there about how corporations and governments and small- and medium-sized businesses are going to go about” it.

https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2017/08/14/canada-wants-progressive-trade-deal-with-us-mexico-freeland-says.html

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