CUSMA: Not the progressive deal Canadians were promised

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  • 06 Jun 2019
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As the Canadian government takes steps towards ratifying the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA), known widely as the new NAFTA or NAFTA 2.0, many concerns remain for all people in Canada.

At the outset of the rollercoaster negotiations beginning in August 2017, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland outlined the “progressive trade” principles that her government committed to pursuing in renegotiating NAFTA. Labour, environmental and civil society movements in Canada remained critical of the so-called progressive trade agenda, but celebrated the shift in approach that largely echoed the concerns and goals for which our movements have long advocated.

The new North American agreement, signed November 30, 2018, has fallen far short of even the Canadian government’s own commitments. The CUSMA fails to adequately address many of the long-term problems caused by NAFTA: wage stagnation and rising inequality, deterioration of farmer livelihoods, inadequate protection of public services and environmental degradation. In fact, it may worsen the situation for many communities and industries.

There are, indeed, important improvements in the CUSMA, most notably the rollback of ISDS and the negotiation of the Mexican labour reform annex. However, these improvements are outweighed by continued flaws. Analysis of the CUSMA text has illustrated the shortcomings of the deal. Key areas of concern include access to affordable medicines, supply management, regulatory harmonization and the enforceability of labour and environmental protections.

It remains troubling why the Trudeau government has leapt to sign this flawed agreement under pressure from the Trump administration, particularly given that research shows NAFTA termination would have minimal economic impact. As the Democrats in the US Congress have illustrated, there are still opportunities to negotiate positive changes that will benefit people across North America, such as improving access to affordable medicines and stronger labour and environmental protections.

Freeland’s promises aside, the agreement comes nowhere near the overhaul necessary to develop a more equitable and sustainable model of trade. Civil society actors across Canada, the U.S. and Mexico have developed a roadmap for a new model, such as those principles outlined in this joint declaration.

The negotiation process, itself, has long been a key area of critique. While the Trudeau government, to its credit, demonstrated marked improvement upon its predecessors in its approach to consultation, there remained a lack of meaningful consultation and transparency throughout the process. Now, the Canadian government has signaled what is anticipated to be a hurried ratification process through Parliament.

We call on our elected leaders to oppose the CUSMA in its current form. At minimum, they must take the time to study the agreement’s implications and to meaningfully seek public input. We call on the government to ensure any new agreement is equitable, benefits peoples across the continent and is environmentally sustainable, as Canadians were assured a new NAFTA would be.