IN THE NEWS ~ Sears gives NAFTA a free ride, says NDP MP Julian

Sears gives NAFTA a free ride, says NDP MP Julian
Posted: May 5, 2008
The Hill Times

Peter Julian, May 5th, 2008,The Hill Times -- Re: "Behind the dreadfully named mini-scandal NAFTAgate and other nonsense," (The Hill Times, April 7, p. 1).
In his interesting defence of trade, Robin Sears gives NAFTA an undeserved free ride. For the NDP, this is not about trade-bashing, but about bashing bad deals that damage Canadian sovereignty and service multinational corporations at ordinary people's expense.

Since the first Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement was signed in 1989, average market family incomes in this country have actually declined for three out of every five Canadian families, while 80 per cent of Canadian families have seen their share of the income pie go to the top income earners, who now take home 50 per cent of all income. So much for the prosperity that FTA—NAFTA were supposed to bring in.

Thanks to some of the more disastrous clauses within NAFTA, Canada is rapidly losing control over natural resources, including oil, gas and water, as well as public goods such as health care and auto insurance. In fact, the proportionality clause of NAFTA means that the U.S. has the right of first and exclusive access to Canadian energy resources, even in the event of a critical national supply shortage.

The Alberta tar sands are now being shipped off to the U.S. while the eastern half of the country must rely on oil imports from unstable regions such as the Middle East.

Canada has been further short-changed by a promised failsafe dispute resolution mechanism which was never delivered. We saw clearly in the softwood lumber sellout in October 2006 that despite the fact that Canada had consistently won at dispute settlement boards, the U.S. refused to yield. The failure of NAFTA resulted in the selling-out of the Canadian lumber industry by the conservative government.

And what about the new jobs created since NAFTA? We have seen hundreds of thousands of good, family-sustaining jobs in the manufacturing sector lost and most new jobs are temporary or part-time, without benefits or security. A 10 per cent to 15 per cent decline in median and average wages accompanies these losses, when people are forced to take jobs in the services sector.

As for the increase in continental trade, a 2000 Industry Canada study revealed that the increase in trade between Canada and the United States in the last decade has been mostly a result of the low Canadian dollar and the growth of the U.S. economy, not NAFTA. The intensity of our trade relationship is determined by U.S. economic growth and exchange rates; the NAFTA factor accounts for less than 10 per cent.

There are other questionable effects that NAFTA continues to produce. There are serious questions whether NAFTA will legally limit Canada from complying with the Kyoto Protocol, not that really matters to the current government.

Even Business Week magazine acknowledges that job losses, lower wages, and income inequality have been grossly accelerated under NAFTA, on both sides of the border.

Price Waterhouse's Global Competitiveness Index has recognized that the prosperity in Canada is significantly linked to our healthcare system and primary education and Canada has slipped from second in a list 117 countries, to number eight on a list of 131 countries. This is where our ability to compete actually lies. U.S. investment in Canada's automotive sector had a lot to do with huge healthcare costs in the United States. Now the dollar is high because of our record amount of energy exports and this is hurting the manufacturing sector.

Obviously, this reality has nothing to do with NAFTA or trade with China.

These are the facts which make a strong case in favour of diligently pursuing an agenda for fair trade. I submit that Clinton and Obama had the courage to say what they truly believed about NAFTA. It is time for Canada to follow what, in this case, is the good example of the United States.

NDP MP Peter Julian
Burnaby-New Westminster, B.C