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Freeland to press for new labour, environmental sections within NAFTA

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La Presse | 13 August 2017

Freeland to press for new labour, environmental sections within NAFTA


Chrystia Freeland will push for additional labour and environmental sections when she shares broad strokes Monday of Canada’s goals for the upcoming NAFTA talks.

The foreign affairs minister will deliver the message in a morning speech at the University of Ottawa. It will come as Canada, the United States and Mexico prepare to start fresh trade talks on Wednesday in Washington D.C.

The address will provide more details on Ottawa’s NAFTA priorities, said a senior government official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about specifics of the speech.

Among them, Freeland will express a desire for new labour and environmental sections, which were added as an afterthought in the original deal.

The original NAFTA included addendums on labour and the environment after Bill Clinton was elected in 1992 and insisted on some changes.

The Canadian official says Freeland will be seeking more.

"There (are no) standalone chapters on these in NAFTA," the official said.

"That’s something we’re willing to stand up for and say, ’This is what’s needed in a modern agreement.’ "

Some officials have articulated a self-interested reason for new labour protections: to increase wages in Mexico, narrow the gap in labour costs, and make it more attractive to invest in car plants in the north.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has publicly referred to that objective. Canadian officials have also done so, albeit more quietly.

Freeland’s last pre-negotiation consultation before heading down to Washington for the first round of talks will be with labour leaders who have pushed for these changes.

The source described the speech as consequential, but the public shouldn’t expect Freeland to lay out too many detailed positions in public.

Canadian officials have prided themselves on their cards-to-the-chest approach and that’s unlikely to change Monday.

The speech will offer enough to serve as a reference for those interested in a better understanding of Canada’s positions and make the case that the public stands to benefit from the 23-year-old deal’s modernization, the official said.

Freeland will also highlight elements from Canada’s recently negotiated trade agreement with the European Union and explain how they might be relevant for the NAFTA talks.

In Monday’s speech, Freeland will also discuss some of her priorities on NAFTA’s dispute resolution mechanisms.

The U.S. is talking about getting rid of one of those chapters, 19, because it resents having an international panel interpret its domestic trade laws.

That chapter was a key condition of Canada entering the original 1987 agreement, and was helpful to the Canadian cause in softwood lumber disputes. Some experts suggest it’s less relevant today, with the existence of World Trade Organization panels.

There’s one other priority Freeland is less likely to mention: expanded professional visas. Updating the list to include new jobs, like digital ones, is a longstanding Canadian priority.

But it’s controversial in the U.S., where it becomes wrapped up in that country’s heated immigration debates.

Canada has also repeatedly pushed for extending its Buy American exemptions for national public-works projects, to the state and local level.

The U.S. has already signalled that’s a non-starter. In fact, many American lawmakers are pushing to limit the exemptions Canada already enjoys.

Later Monday, Freeland will testify before a parliamentary committee on international trade, which will be followed by a news conference.

Last week, after meeting with Alberta farmers, Freeland noted the importance of removing barriers at the border.

"One of the key things that I heard from the farmers and ranchers today was how good it would be to use these talks to reduce some of the red tape that they still face in cross-border trade," she told reporters Friday in Edmonton.

"This U.S. administration has been really focused on cutting red tape on making it easier to do business and so that’s going to be something where I think we can have some very productive conversations."

 source: Ottawa Citizen