Summary Report ~ The 2nd North American Forum on a People-Centered Approach to Trade

The 2nd North American Forum
A People-Centered Trade Model for North America

North American legislators and civil society actors met in Ottawa June 5 2006 to formulate people-centred alternatives to the deep-integration agenda. This session will extend the work of the first Tri-National Forum held May 4-5, 2005, in Washington.

Confirmed participants include:
• legislators from Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies, the US Congress and Canada’s Parliament; and
• civil society representatives from each country, including the Canadian Common Frontiers and the Réseau québécois sur l’intégration continentale.

Participating civil society networks have documented growing gaps between rich and poor under NAFTA, arguing that social programs and protections have been sacrificed for narrow economic gain for the wealthy. One recent analysis shows that 60 per cent of Canadian families are now worse off under the deal and the FTA that preceded it.

For their part, progressive legislators have voiced concerns about NAFTA promoting a “race to the bottom” rather than equitable development in all three countries. The spark for this North American process is the refusal by all three governments to conduct open reviews of NAFTA’s effects on people, communities and regions.

Instead, the three heads of state continue to meet behind closed doors to extend a little-known Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) agreement. Press releases promote this retooling of some 300 policy and programme areas as benign “efficiency” measures meriting no legislative or public input. Many forum participants contest the secrecy.

Participants continue to examine SPP measures as possible wedges for deeper integration. Indeed, the leaders’ discussions have already ranged to an energy pact and the harmonization of migration and security policies. These themes are a slippery slope toward “NAFTA-plus” — a general melding of national policies to eliminate what the multinational-corporate lobby refers to as profit-limiting “incompatibilities.”

The year’s forum is especially timely for Canadians. The federal government’s surrender on the softwood lumber issue underlines what Canada sacrificed for a NAFTA agreement that is failing to protect our national interest.

This year’s forum aims to harness participants’ well-developed opposition for positive proposition. Participants will explore new approaches to social and economic relations in North America. The goal for June 5: a North American work plan toward a people-centred trade model with quality-of-life and environmental protection as first principles.