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People's Trade

A new agenda for trade agreements

Better trade deals begin with putting workers and communities first

Global trade matters to Canada’s economy. Half a trillion dollars in goods are exported each year from Canada to nations around the world, plus billions more in service trade.

About two-thirds of Unifor members work in trade-related or trade-dependent industries such as manufacturing, resources, forestry and logistics – key drivers of middle class jobs. As the deals expand beyond trade into areas of policy-making (such as public health, job creation, indigenous rights and environmental protection) nearly all Unifor members – in fact, all Canadians – are affected by trade policy.

The future of trade policy is, truly, the future of this country. It is therefore imperative that Unifor play an active role on trade issues.

Unifor priorities

Unifor has been a vocal critic of Canada’s federal trade policy – one that, since the mid-1980s, has re-calibrated trade rules through trade and investment treaties. These treaties have granted extraordinary rights to private investors, undermined workers’ rights, placed downward pressure on wages and restricted the role of government to regulate in the public interest.

The Harper government prioritized trade and investment deals as a centre piece of its economic development plan. Since 2006, Canada has signed a series of controversial agreements, including with the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the European Union, which contains an egregious NAFTA-like clause on corporate rights, and establishes an unprecedented coverage of sub-national governments.

What's next

Trade policy will continue to loom large in the press on several fronts:

  • The US Trump Administration's push to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
  • The trade deal with the European Union, ratified by the House of Commons and the European Parliament, my still be ratified by each European nation.
  • The planned re-negotiation of Canada’s softwood lumber deal with the U.S.
  • Canada is participating in closed-door talks to revive the Trans-Pacific Partnership, without the US
  • Ongoing dispute with China over its anti-dumping measures impacting Canadian pulp.

Signing more trade and investment agreements does not, in itself, constitute good trade policy. Success cannot be measured simply by the number of trade treaties Canada has on the books. In fact, evidence suggests Canada’s overall trade performance worsens as a result of free trade agreements – a point further emphasized by our nation’s growing current accounts deficit.

In Unifor's view, it is incumbent on Canada’s Liberal government to promote a more informed view of trade, how it can be facilitated with limited disruption to important value-added industries, and how it must complement broader social, economic and environmental goals.