Free­land to push for new sec­tions within NAFTA

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OBITUARIES/NEWS -

Chrys­tia Free­land will push for ad­di­tional labour and en­vi­ron­men­tal sec­tions when she shares broad strokes to­day of Canada’s goals for the up­com­ing NAFTA talks.

The for­eign af­fairs min­is­ter will de­liver the mes­sage in a morn­ing speech at the Uni­ver­sity of Ot­tawa. It will come as Canada, the United States and Mex­ico pre­pare to start fresh trade talks on Wed­nes­day in Wash­ing­ton D.C.

The ad­dress will pro­vide more de­tails on Ot­tawa’s NAFTA pri­or­i­ties, said a se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial, who was not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly about specifics of the speech.

Among them, Free­land will ex­press a de­sire for new labour and en­vi­ron­men­tal sec­tions, which were added as an af­ter­thought in the orig­i­nal deal.

The orig­i­nal NAFTA in­cluded ad­den­dums on labour and the en­vi­ron­ment after Bill Clin­ton was elected in 1992 and in­sisted on some changes.

The Cana­dian of­fi­cial says Free­land will be seek­ing more.

“There (are no) stand­alone chap­ters on these in NAFTA,” the of­fi­cial said.

“That’s some­thing we’re will­ing to stand up for and say, ‘This is what’s needed in a mod­ern agree­ment.’ ”

Some of­fi­cials have ar­tic­u­lated a self-in­ter­ested rea­son for new labour pro­tec­tions: to in­crease wages in Mex­ico, nar­row the gap in labour costs, and make it more at­trac­tive to in­vest in car plants in the north.

U.S. Com­merce Sec­re­tary Wil­bur Ross has pub­licly re­ferred to that ob­jec­tive. Cana­dian of­fi­cials have also done so, al­beit more qui­etly.

Free­land’s last pre-ne­go­ti­a­tion con­sul­ta­tion be­fore head­ing down to Wash­ing­ton for the first round of talks will be with labour lead­ers who have pushed for these changes.

The source de­scribed the speech as con­se­quen­tial, but the pub­lic shouldn’t ex­pect Free­land to lay out too many de­tailed po­si­tions in pub­lic.

Cana­dian of­fi­cials have prided them­selves on their cards-to-the-chest ap­proach and that’s un­likely to change to­day.

The speech will of­fer enough to serve as a ref­er­ence for those in­ter­ested in a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of Canada’s po­si­tions and make the case that the pub­lic stands to ben­e­fit from the 23-year-old deal’s mod­ern­iza­tion, the of­fi­cial said.

Free­land will also high­light el­e­ments from Canada’s re­cently ne­go­ti­ated trade agree­ment with the Euro­pean Union and ex­plain how they might be rel­e­vant for the NAFTA talks.

In to­day’s speech, Free­land will also dis­cuss some of her pri­or­i­ties on NAFTA’s dis­pute res­o­lu­tion mech­a­nisms.

The U.S. is talk­ing about get­ting rid of one of those chap­ters, 19, be­cause it re­sents hav­ing an in­ter­na­tional panel in­ter­pret its do­mes­tic trade laws.

That chap­ter was a key con­di­tion of Canada en­ter­ing the orig­i­nal 1987 agree­ment, and was help­ful to the Cana­dian cause in soft­wood lum­ber dis­putes. Some experts sug­gest it’s less rel­e­vant to­day, with the ex­is­tence of World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion pan­els.

There’s one other pri­or­ity Free­land is less likely to men­tion: ex­panded pro­fes­sional visas. Up­dat­ing the list to in­clude new jobs, like dig­i­tal ones, is a long­stand­ing Cana­dian pri­or­ity.

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