IN THE NEWS ~ Op-ed ~ Yes, we can rebuild NAFTA and protect Canadian jobs

Yes, we can rebuild NAFTA and protect Canadian jobs
By Peter Julian

There are few relationships in the world today stronger than the one between Canada and the United States. Our histories are often shared, our values similar, and our futures linked.

So when our American friends vote to change the overall thrust of their trade policies, we need more than a knee-jerk response from the government.

That is why we need to work with President Barack Obama’s plan to rebuild the North American Free Trade Agreement. Changes must be made to ensure much stronger environmental, labour, and social protections, as well as more transparency, and less corporate control. It’s time for fair trade to come to Canada.

A Canadian policy of fair trade would have many benefits. Most notably, it could protect and save jobs domestically through a Buy Canada Act negotiated sector-by-sector with our American allies, and with other countries willing to reciprocate and share the added value.

This is a recognition that strong domestic industries build a better foundation for trade than the low-wage global supply model we have now. We are currently witnessing a shift in how we manage our economies. It is time that our trade deals also reflect this new reality.

Canada must negotiate agreements with the United States to invest in domestic industries like automotive, steel, and iron. Buy American and Buy Canadian policies should supplement these agreements. Managed trade, used effectively in fair-trade agreements like a new Auto Pact, could help rebuild our struggling manufacturing industry.

President Obama was elected on a fair-trade policy platform because Americans, like an increasing number of Canadians and Mexicans, now reject unregulated free trade. Republican Senator John McCain and his free-trade platform were soundly defeated last November.

Yet in Canada, Conservatives and Liberals continue to defend unregulated free trade—despite its legacy of lower standards, poorer quality of life and shrinking Canadian wages.

The fact is that while NAFTA has brought an increased level of trade between our two countries (largely inter-company transfers), it has clearly failed on the bottom line. Statistics Canada reports that since 1989, the real income of the majority of families in Canada has actually decreased.

Canadian investment has suffered too. Under NAFTA we have seen more than 11,000 foreign takeovers of companies in Canada. Eighty percent of these takeovers were from the United States. New business investment accounts for less than three percent of foreign direct investment.

Far from stimulating productive investment in Canada, NAFTA has hastened the fire sale of Canadian assets.

This is an historic moment to choose a real path forward for Canada’s economy. Instead of remaining mired on the unregulated path that got us into our current economic mess, Canada should take a leadership role and pursue a fair-trade model with the United States and the rest of the world.

The time has come. Yes we can.

Peter Julian is the NDP’s critic for international trade and the MP for Burnaby-New Westminster.