Labour lob­bies Lib­er­als

In­dus­try as­so­ci­a­tions make their cases ahead of NAFTA talks

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - CANADA - BY JOANNA SMITH

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment has spent a lot of time in the U.S. of late, mak­ing Canada’s case in ad­vance of this week’s lon­gawaited NAFTA talks. Back home, though, in­dus­try groups have been work­ing hard to make sure they de­liver the right mes­sage.

An­drea van Vugt, the vi­cepres­i­dent of pol­icy for North America at the Busi­ness Coun­cil of Canada, said her or­ga­ni­za­tion was brac­ing for a rene­go­ti­a­tion of the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment even be­fore Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion win.

“It was clear that NAFTA was going to be­come a dis­cus­sion, re­gard­less of who was elected, given the role that it played in the elec­tion,’’ van Vugt said.

John Man­ley, a former Lib­eral cab­i­net min­is­ter who is pres­i­dent and CEO of the Busi­ness Coun­cil of Canada, is reg­is­tered to lobby the fed­eral gov­ern­ment on any changes to the 23-year-old trade deal be­tween Canada, the U.S. and Mex­ico.

The monthly com­mu­ni­ca­tion re­ports filed to the fed­eral lob­by­ing com­mis­sioner do not sin­gle out NAFTA, but they do show Man­ley has had six meet­ings in the last six months alone where in­ter­na­tional trade has been one of the sub­jects, in­clud­ing in April with Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau.

The Busi­ness Coun­cil of Canada is not alone in these ef­forts.

The Cana­dian Press found 45 ac­tive en­tries in the fed­eral lob­by­ist reg­istry, rep­re­sent­ing 24 or­ga­ni­za­tions who have signed up to make their case to the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment — or hired lob­by­ists to do it for them — ahead of the first round of talks, which get un­der­way Wed­nes­day in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

There were also 1,458 ac­tive reg­is­tra­tions where the sub­jects in­cluded in­ter­na­tional trade. A num­ber of those in­cluded or­ga­ni­za­tions, such as the Dairy Farm­ers of Canada, that didn’t specif­i­cally men­tion NAFTA, but whose pri­or­i­ties are clearly linked to the trade talks.

Any ac­tiv­ity that fol­lowed the re­lease of the U.S. gov­ern­ment’s sum­mary of ob­jec­tives last month would not be re­flected in the reg­istry; the re­ports for any meet­ings that took place in July are not due to be filed un­til next week.

They rep­re­sent a wide range of in­ter­ests, from agri­cul­tural pro­duc­ers and auto man­u­fac­tur­ers to phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies and unions.

“Cana­dian busi­ness is re­ally well en­gaged with the gov­ern­ment and the gov­ern­ment’s do­ing a re­ally good job at stay­ing close to in­dus­try to make sure that they know what’s on our agenda for the talks,’’ said van Vugt.

The Lib­er­als are aim­ing for a uni­fied mes­sage, but that does not mean the groups lob­by­ing them are all on the same page.

Jerry Dias, the na­tional pres­i­dent of Uni­for, Canada’s largest labour union, has a vastly dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive than those Cana­dian busi­ness in­ter­ests that want to see the trade deal im­proved, but not nec­es­sar­ily over­hauled.

“You have no idea how much I am look­ing for­ward to par­tic­i­pat­ing in fix­ing this colos­sal dis­as­ter,’’ said Dias, whose union is call­ing for higher wage and labour stan­dards, es­pe­cially in Mex­ico.

The In­ter­na­tional Cheese Coun­cil of Canada, mean­while, is set­ting its sights on the of­ten­con­tro­ver­sial sup­ply man­age­ment sys­tem, which pro­tects the do­mes­tic dairy in­dus­try by plac­ing sky-high tar­iffs on im­ports.

“We want to see more cheese com­ing into Canada and we want the right to im­port that cheese,’’ said their lob­by­ist, James McIlroy.

The Cana­dian Su­gar In­sti­tute, mean­while, wants the new NAFTA to ease some Amer­i­can pro­tec­tion­ist mea­sures, such as quota re­stric­tions on su­gar and some su­gar-con­tain­ing prod­ucts, in ad­di­tion to pre­serv­ing what ac­cess they do have to the U.S. mar­ket.

“The prob­lem for us is that trade for Mex­ico was lib­er­al­ized, but trade for Canada was not,’’ said San­dra Mars­den, pres­i­dent of the in­sti­tute.

The Lib­eral gov­ern­ment has been hold­ing con­sul­ta­tions, but Carl Ro­drigues, CEO of Soti Inc., a tech­nol­ogy firm based in Mis­sis­sauga, Ont., reg­is­tered to lobby the gov­ern­ment on NAFTA, said he wishes there was more of a back-and-forth con­ver­sa­tion.

“It was clear that NAFTA was going to be­come a dis­cus­sion, re­gard­less of who was elected, given the role that it played in the elec­tion.’’ An­drea van Vugt

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