Trade Justice Network Calls for Fairer Trade Model in NAFTA Renegotiations

Press Release

OTTAWA — A coalition of Canada’s largest unions and civil society groups is calling on the Canadian government to pursue a fairer, more socially just model of trade in the NAFTA renegotiations.

Today, Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland appeared before the House of Commons Committee on International Trade to outline the government’s NAFTA priorities. Freeland committed to negotiating a NAFTA that is “more progressive” and using the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) as a model. In her remarks, Freeland failed to address failed to address the real concerns of Canadians regarding NAFTA, says the Trade Justice Network.

The Trade Justice Network (TJN) is a network comprised of environmental, labour, cultural, farming, social justice and other civil society organizations that aims to raise awareness about free trade agreements and advocates for a more sustainable, fair and socially just international trade regime.

The Trudeau government has repeatedly claimed that it is committed to a “progressive” trade agenda. However, the NAFTA priorities outlined by Freeland today are far from progressive, said Nadia Ibrahim of the TJN.

Freeland revealed that Canada will aim to include labour and environmental provisions in the text of the agreement and develop new gender and Indigenous chapters, yet provided no concrete details. The Minister also indicated this government’s interest in negotiating a “more progressive investor-state dispute settlement mechanism” (ISDS). This government has consistently touted the Investor Court System in CETA as a progressive alternative to ISDS, but both academics and civl society activists have noted that it does little to address the problems with ISDS.

Canada must stand firmly for a new economic and trade relationship that benefits all people across the continent, especially when facing the nationalist and xenophobic rhetoric of the Trump administration.

The TJN reiterates the following demands for a truly progressive, fair and socially just NAFTA 2.0:

  1. Eliminate investor-state dispute settlement (Chapter 11). Canada has been the most sued country under NAFTA Chapter 11 and it is our public interest policies and environmental regulations that have been the target.
  2.  A new agreement must ensure stronger, enforceable labour rights (including those for migrant workers) and environmental protection.
  3. Negotiations must be open, transparent and democratic.
  4. Public services must be protected. This means excluding from an agreement public services like education, health care, culture and telecommunications, energy and water.
  5. Indigenous rights and sovereignty must be protected. Indigenous communities must be included in the negotiation process.
  6. Canada should not give up the ability to link community benefits to government procurement: it is one of the few resources we have to direct toward our own local economic and social development.
  7. An agreement must ensure local and national sovereignty over food and agriculture policy. This includes the protection of Canada’s supply management system.

We need a fairer, more socially just and more sustainable international trade regime. The Canadian government has an opportunity to advocate for an agreement based in these principles through the NAFTA renegotiation.

If the Trudeau government is to honour its commitment to “progressive” trade, the Trade Justice Network calls on the negotiators to follow the above recommendations. By doing so, we can work towards a trade and economic relationship that benefits all people and the environment across North America.



Contact information:

Nadia Ibrahim


Trade Justice Network Submits Brief to the NAFTA Renegotiation Consultations

July 14, 2017 — Global Affairs Canada invited Canadians to submit their views on the renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Renegotiations are set to begin in mid-August.

Today, the Trade Justice Network submitted a brief outlining several of the main problems with NAFTA. As NAFTA increased trade across borders and contributed to economic integration between Canada, the United States and Mexico, it has been accompanied by a host of devastating impacts on people, the environment and democracy across the continent. Some of those well-documented impacts are outlined in this submission, including a rise in inequality, the expansion of investor rights, the weakening of labour rights, environmental degradation, the deterioration of agricultural systems and the lowering of public health and consumer protection standards. The NAFTA renegotiations must take into consideration the impacts of NAFTA to date in order to develop a fairer trade relationship going forward.

In our submission, we point to alternatives—the core principles and elements that must characterize any new agreement for North American trade and economic integration, as well as the process to develop it. A new agreement or model for trade and cooperation must protect labour rights (including those of migrant workers) and human rights; agricultural production, rural communities and food sovereignty; environmental sustainability; democracy and government’s right to regulate. The negotiation and development process must be democratic, transparent and participatory. We call on the Canadian government to commit to upholding these rights and principles. North American needs an alternative model for fairer, more socially just trade.

Read the full submission here: Submission to the NAFTA Consultations – July 2017

Trade Justice Network participates in tri-national NAFTA meetings in Mexico City

MEXICO CITY — On May 25-27th, the Trade Justice Network (TJN) participated in a tri-national meeting of social organizations from Canada, Quebec, the US and Mexico ahead of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) renegotiations.

Over 300 people gathered in the stunning Palacio de Medicina in the heart of Mexico City to discuss the impacts of NAFTA and to develop coordinated strategies for moving forward. Participants included representatives of labour, environmental, agricultural/farming, Indigenous, migrant, feminist, education, human rights, social justice and other civil society organizations.

The Canada and Quebec delegation included representatives from Common Frontiers, the Council of Canadians, Réseau Québécois sur l’intégration continentale (RQIC), the Canadian Labour Congress, Unifor, the Canadian Union of Public and General Employees (CUPE) National, the United Steelworkers, Public Service Alliance of Canada, BC Teachers Federation, Fonds de solidarité (FTQ), Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), Centro international de solidarité ouvrière (CiSO), the National Farmers Union, and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, many of which are member organizations of the TJN. Elected officials lent their support to the meetings of the tri-national coalition, including MP and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May (via video), Amir Khadir of the National Assembly of Quebec, and Ana Collins (representing MP Romeo Saganash).

During the public portion of the meetings, including a press conference, we heard from both expert researchers and on-the-ground organizers and workers on the effects of NAFTA in all three countries. While NAFTA has had negative impacts on workers, farmers, and the environment across the continent, there is no question that Mexico has suffered most greatly. A statement by Mexican social movement organizations noted that “NAFTA has been a source of poverty and inequality, deprivation of natural resources and loss of land of campesinos and Indigenous peoples.”

Beyond simply criticizing NAFTA, a common sentiment in the civil society meetings was the need to oppose the current model of international trade and the neoliberal political economic model which underlies it. However, in opposing (or calling for alternatives to) NAFTA, participants—particularly those from Mexico—were sure to emphasize that they did not espouse isolationism or nationalism. Instead, many proposed an alternative model for economic integration to the current one represented by NAFTA.

Such an alternative model must be based on principles that have largely disappeared from the current international trade regime: democratic participation, transparency and the guarantee of the rights of workers, the environment and all peoples.

Constituting a strong and diverse delegation, representatives of Canadian and Quebec organizations called for the protection of labour rights (including those of migrant workers), human rights, farmers and rural communities, public education, public services, Indigenous rights and knowledge, and the environment in any new agreement.

Although there were different perspectives on whether to participate in the NAFTA renegotiation process or to call for eliminating the agreement altogether, there was consensus on a vital point: the need for tri-national solidarity. This involves denouncing the nationalist and xenophobic rhetoric that has resurfaced with Donald Trump and recognizing that it is the current model of international trade—which expands investor/corporate rights at the expense of workers, public services, Indigenous sovereignty, the environment and democracy—that has harmed peoples across the continent; it is not our neighbours who should be the target of our frustration.

Rather than falling into an us-versus-them dynamic, we must come together at this important political juncture to demand a trade relationship that puts people and the environment at the centre. We must work together across sectors and across borders to form a political movement that is diverse, inclusive and unified.

In a joint statement that came out of the three days of meetings, participants declared a commitment to tri-national solidarity and the implementation of a tri-national action plan, the seeds of which were sown during the meetings. The coordinated action plan, including strategies for mobilization, campaigns, political action, and proposals, aims to effect change in the international trade regime and develop alternatives for fairer economic integration and sustainable development.

Read the full text of the tri-national declaration here: Tri-national Declaration

Trade Justice Network Submits a Brief to the Canada-China Trade Consultations

June 2, 2017 — In March, the Canadian government announced that it would be consulting Canadians on a potential free trade agreement (FTA) with China. Today, the Trade Justice Network submitted a brief outlining our main concerns with a potential Canada-China FTA. These concerns include the impact on our trade relationship, enhanced rights of investors, environmental impacts and China’s poor record on labour and human rights.

In its recent launch of the preliminary public consultation process, the Government of Canada claimed that “today’s modern, interconnected economy requires a more inclusive and progressive approach to international trade.” If the government is to honour its commitment to a progressive trade agenda, a Canada-China FTA must ensure that human rights, labour rights, Indigenous sovereignty and environmental sustainability are protected (and prioritized) rather than jeopardized by the expansion of investor rights.

Read our full submission here:  Submission to Global Affairs on the Proposed Canada-China FTA – June 2017

NAFTA serves corporations: Civil Society will hold their own discussions in Mexico City May 26-28th

Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto – May 24, 2017 – While Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland undertakes private NAFTA renegotiation meetings in Mexico City, civil society will also hold their own discussions in the same city from May 26-28th.

Networks from Canada and Quebec, representing labour unions; Indigenous, farmers, and migrant groups; environmentalists; women’s organizations; international solidarity groups; student movements; and human rights organizations will join their American and Mexican counterparts at the historic Antiguo Palacio de Escuela de Medicina in Mexico City.

“Since the implementation of NAFTA, we have witnessed an unprecedented increase in profits, and economic inequality in Canada – it’s time for alternatives to the current neoliberal free trade model,” said Raul Burbano, Program Director of Common Frontiers.

“The economic, social and environmental impacts of NAFTA have been devastating to people in all three countries, including an increase in poverty and inequality, the weakening of labour rights while corporate rights have been strengthened, and the erosion of environmental protections,” said Nadia Ibrahim of the Trade Justice Network.

“For 30 years, NAFTA has been a backroom deal for those at the top. So far, the pattern has repeated itself, with the Canadian government enlisting the support of corporate Canada and former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Yet, NAFTA affects not only our jobs but the planet,” explained Sujata Dey, Trade Campaigner from the Council of Canadians.

The renegotiation process has to be transparent and participatory and any NAFTA replacement must ensure respect for human rights, improve peoples’ lives and livelihoods, and protect the environment in all three countries,” said Ronald Cameron, coordinator of the Réseau québécois sur l’intégration continentale.

A paradigm shift from the current global economic model is imperative in order to mitigate the threats of economic and environmental disaster.

Participating organizations from Canada and Québec:

  • Association pour la Taxation des Transactions pour l’Aide aux Citoyens (ATTAC-Québec)
  • BC Teachers’ Federation
  • Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • Canadian Labour Congress
  • Canadian Union of Public Employees,
  • Centre international de solidarité ouvrière (CISO)
  • Common Frontiers
  • Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN)
  • Council of Canadians
  • Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ)
  • Fédération nationale des enseignantes et des enseignants du Québec (FNEEQ-CSN)
  • Justicia for Migrant Workers
  • National Farmers’ Union
  • Office of Romeo Saganash, Member of Parliament
  • Public Service Alliance of Canada
  • Réseau québécois sur l’intégration continentale (RQIC)
  • Trade Justice Network
  • Unifor
  • United Steelworkers of Canada


Sujata Dey
Council of Canadians
613-796-7724 (ENG, FR)

Raul Burbano
Common Frontiers
416-522-8615 (ENG, ESP)

Nadia Ibrahim
Trade Justice Network
204-803-8133 (ENG)

Ronald Cameron
Reseau quebecois sur l’integration continentale (RQIC)
514-217-0264 (FR, ENG)

Trade Justice Network on the Revived TPP Talks

On May 2 and 3, high level negotiators from 11 countries met in Toronto behind closed doors at an undisclosed location in an attempt to revive the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). The renewed talks sparked protest from the Trade Justice Network and other civil society organizations, calling these secret negotiations absurd and undemocratic.

Trade Justice Network (TJN) Co-Chair Larry Brown was interviewed on Vancouver Co-op Radio’s Redeye to discuss the problems with the TPP and the renewed negotiations. He shares the TJN’s perspective on trade agreements like the TPP, CETA and NAFTA and an alternative vision for more progressive and fair trade deals.

Listen to the interview here:

Categories TPP

Back from the grave — Secret TPP talks to resume in Toronto

Joint Media Release

As Toronto hosts two days of high-level TPP talks in an undisclosed location, civil society groups warn that TPP cannot be the basis for Canada’s future trade relationships

May 2, 2017 – High level negotiators from 11 countries are meeting in Toronto in an attempt to resuscitate the controversial Trans Pacific Partnership. The meetings will take place behind closed doors at an undisclosed location on May 2 and 3. The proposed mega-trade deal appeared to be dead after public pressure prompted the U.S. to withdraw from the pact.

The TPP sparked strong public opposition in all 12 countries. In part the criticism of the deal which could have covered 40% of the world’s trade was that it was negotiated entirely in secret and without public input. But as details of the deal began to leak out, opinion polls in most of the participating countries tracked growing public opposition.

The renewed talks have sparked protests from the Trade Justice Network and other civil society groups who warn that because the TPP was created without citizen input, it cannot be the basis for Canada’s future trade relationships with Asia-Pacific nations. The groups say it’s absurd and undemocratic for the federal government to host secret talks at a secret location on a deal that will dramatically impact the lives of Canadians.

“The TPP is only marginally about trade. It is about harmonizing standards and regulations across countries and strengthening the rights of corporations at the expense of citizens, workers, the public at large, and the environment. The costs of ratifying the TPP far outweigh any small benefit that may be gained. We urge the Trudeau government to stand up for Canadians and against the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” said Larry Brown, Co-Chair of the Trade Justice Network and President of the National Union of Public and General Employees.

“Deals like the TPP never truly die. Their destructive nature – killing jobs and the environment – lives on in other forms,” said Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians. “Even without the U.S., other countries are trying to revive the dubious legacy of the TPP. It’s time they got the message: People are tired of these agreements, and we must do better.”

“TPP was a bad deal then, and it’s a bad deal now,” said Unifor National President Jerry Dias. “We were told we had to be in the TPP because the U.S. was in it. Now, the U.S. is out. Why would we revive a trade deal that was so bad for Canadian workers and communities? The federal government has not even completed its review of the last TPP deal. Canadians have said they do not want the TPP. The government does not have a mandate to bring this bad deal back to life.”

“The TPP is an unfair and undemocratic deal that was negotiated behind closed doors without any meaningful public participation,” said David Christopher, communications manager with OpenMedia. “Such a flawed and unpopular deal cannot be the basis for Canada’s future trade relationships. Instead of hosting secret talks to resurrect the TPP behind closed doors, the government needs to go back to the drawing board and ensure any future trade deal is shaped by citizens every step of the way.”

“Trump’s election should have triggered alarm bells in Ottawa about the dangers of pursuing trade agreements that promote corporate interests at the expense of the public’s. The Leadnow community is shocked that the government is discussing how to resuscitate the TPP – a dangerous, costly, and lopsided agreement that the public widely rejects,” said Brittany Smith, campaigner at Leadnow.

The recently published Let’s Talk TPP report, crowdsourced from nearly 28,000 Canadians, found that the most common reason for opposing the TPP was the failure of the federal government to consult with the public during TPP negotiations. Canadians also highlighted concerns around digital rights, corporate overreach, democratic accountability, healthcare and public services, the environment, labour issues, and the economy as reasons they opposed the deal.

The TPP has been criticized as a transfer of power from democratically elected national governments to multinational corporations that would result in higher drug prices, a dumbing down of national environmental and health regulations and would give corporations special rights to sue national governments without having to go through the established court system.

The TPP has also been condemned by respected citizens groups including the Sierra Club, Doctors Without Borders, the Canadian Labour Congress, the Internet advocacy watchdog Open Media, and even Canadian business tycoon Jim Balsillie and the Canadian head of the Ford Motor Company.

Canadians can tell the government to pull out of any future TPP talks at and can send a copy of the Let’s Talk TPP report to their MP at


About the Trade Justice Network

The Trade Justice Network is a network comprised of environmental, civil society, cultural, farming, labour and social justice organizations that aims to raise awareness about free trade agreements and their implications. We seek to highlight the need for a more sustainable, equitable and socially just international trade regime.

About OpenMedia

OpenMedia works to keep the Internet open, affordable, and surveillance-free. We create community-driven campaigns to engage, educate, and empower people to safeguard the Internet.


Media Contacts

Trade Justice Network: Nadia Ibrahim, 1 (204) 803-8133,

OpenMedia: David Christopher, Communications Manager, OpenMedia, 1 (888) 441-2640 ext. 0,

Council of Canadians: Dylan Penner, Media Officer, Council of Canadians, 1 (613) 795-8685,

Categories TPP

Call-Out for Trinational Meeting of Social Movements From Canada, Mexico and the United States on NAFTA

May 26 and 27, 2017 at the Palacio de Minería, Calle Tacuba 5

in the Historic Centre of Mexico City

“We call on social movements, trade unions, farmers, indigenous nations, migrants, environmentalists, human rights groups and all other interested sectors/organizations from Mexico, United States and Canada to come together to strengthen trinational work in the face of the ‘re-negotiation’ of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), an agreement that has been negative for the peoples of the three countries.

In the 23 years since NAFTA was implemented we have witnessed an unprecedented increase in profits and rights of multinational corporations, which has contributed to widening economic inequality in North America. The social, economic, and environmental impacts on working class people have been devastating, including increased poverty, exacerbating climate change, weakened labour rights and precarious employment, environmental protections eroded, and a downward spiral in terms of living standards across North America.

The NAFTA re-negotiations will have serious impacts on workers, the rights of indigenous peoples, small-scale farmers and peasants, the environment, migrant workers and many other sectors as officials from the three countries get set to negotiate behind closed doors without allowing for meaningful public consultation. Instead, we need a fundamentally new and different model of trade that prioritizes the development needs of all peoples, the protection of our planet, and the reduction of asymmetries among the three countries and within those same nations.

Networks from all three countries representing labour unions, farmers, indigenous peoples, environmentalists, human rights groups, faith based and other organizations that have been collaborating since the inception of NAFTA are issuing this call to build a broader and more diverse movement to challenge the neoliberal re-negotiation of NAFTA.

Mexican organizations, working together under the umbrella of ‘Mexico Better Off Without FTAs’ invite you to join in convening a trinational popular sector gathering to be held in Mexico City on May 26 and 27, 2017.  On May 25, some organizations will hold sectoral trinational meetings specific to labour, agriculture, migrant workers and other key areas, so consider your travel plans accordingly.

This gathering gives us all an opportunity to strategize around actions needed to build collective power based on the principles of solidarity and internationalism while sharing alternatives to the dominant neoliberal agenda.

Details about the agenda and logistics will follow. Participants must self-fund travel expenses and if possible should help organizations unable to afford travel costs. We are looking into financial support for food, lodgings and translation during the gathering. 

Please let us know if you plan to attend, and if your organization would like to join us as a co-convener and/or to participate in the event.

No more corporate-led trade agreements!”

Initial conveners include:

Canada: Common Frontiers (CF); Council of Canadians; Trade Justice Network (TJN); Réseau québéquois sur l’intégration continentale (RQIC); Alternatives; Association pour la Taxation des Transactions financières pour l’Aide aux Citoyens (ATTAC-Québec); Centre international de solidarité ouvrière (CISO); Centrale des syndicats démocratiques (CSD); Centrale des syndicats du Québec; Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN); Conseil central du Montréal-Métropolitain (CSN); Fédération nationale des travailleurs et des travailleuses du Québec (FTQ); Génération nationale; Syndicat de professionnelles et professionnels du gouvernement du Québec (SPGQ)

Mexico: Convergencia de Organizaciones Sociales y Ciudadanxs “México mejor sin TLC’s”, Unión Nacional de Trabajadores (UNT), Nueva Central de Trabajadores (NCT), Asociación Nacional de Empresas Comercializadoras de Productores del Campo (ANEC), Centro de Derechos Humanos “Fray Francisco de Vitoria OP”, Red Mexicana de Acción Frente al Libre Comercio (RMALC), Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales R3D, Campaña Nacional Sin Maíz no hay País, Movimiento “El campo es de todos”, Consejo Nacional de Organismos Rurales y Pesqueros (CONORP), Consejo de Ejidos y Comunidades Opositores a la presa La Parota (CECOP)

United States: Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Institute for Policy Studies Global Economy Project, National Family Farm Coalition, Public Citizen, Sierra Club, Food & Water Watch


*Canada Raul Burbano, Common Frontiers Canada , email:; Ronald Cameron, Réseau québécois sur l’intégration continentale,   

* United States: Karen Hansen-Kuhn, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy,

* Mexico:  José Olvera: Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (STUNAM); Alberto Arroyo (RMALC); Víctor Suárez (ANEC)

Over 450 European and Canadian civil society groups urge legislators to reject CETA

ceta-open-letter-nov-28Over 450 public interest groups from across Europe and Canada today urged legislators to vote against the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). They joined forces to defend people and planet against the threats posed by the EU-Canada agreement, which still needs to be ratified by the European Parliament. Should EU parliamentarians give the trade deal the green light, ratification votes in EU member states would follow.

In an open letter sent to legislators today, the groups express serious concerns about CETA, the ratification of which could weaken protections for workers and the environment, and provide foreign investors with extreme tools to attack public interest regulations.

The open letter highlights that:

  • CETA is no progressive trade deal but even more intrusive than the old free trade agenda designed by and for the world’s largest multinationals.
  • the deal features many worrying provisions that sideline the needs of people and planet.
  • there must be a paradigm shift towards a transparent and inclusive trade policy.

Trade unions, farmer associations, environmental and public health groups as well as human rights and digital rights organisations from both sides of the Atlantic are among the long list of signatories. Their firm rejection of CETA is exemplary for the growing opposition to the controversial agreement, which has also been criticised by legal scholars, small and medium-sized businesses, as well as a number of economists.

Trade campaigner Pia Eberhardt on behalf of signatory Corporate Europe Observatory said:

“Ratifying CETA would give corporations a carte blanche to push through their interests no matter what. CETA contains powerful tools for corporations to bully decision makers and sue for compensation if they introduce policies to protect people and the environment that may affect company profits. We would essentially see corporations hindering governments from doing the job for which they were elected.”

“In times of catastrophic climate change, rising social inequality and growing anger of those who no longer feel represented by politicians, more rights for corporations is the last thing we need.”

Larry Brown, President of the Canadian National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) and Trade Justice Network also signed the letter. He added:

“We stand with European workers and members of civil society who are mobilizing against this corporate-driven trade deal, which will not benefit people. We will continue to fight the deal in Canada. We want our political leaders to move away from the failed model of past trade agreements and promote trade that benefits people and the environment.”

The General Secretary of the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU), Jan Willem Goudriaan, another signatory of the letter, commented:

“Trade unions have provided ample input to the CETA negotiations in order to protect public services and strengthen labour rights. But despite last-minute concessions to clarify the possible interpretation of the agreement, our concerns are not addressed in the text. CETA has become a deal that is actually detrimental to the interests of people. We therefore urge Members of the European Parliament to stand up for citizens, public services and our democracy and vote against CETA.”

Notes to Editors:

  • Read the full open letter to legislators (with links to translations into many languages, including French, German, and Spanish).
  • There has been substantial controversy in the European Parliament over the tight timetable of the CETA dossier. Coordinators of the lead committee on international trade (INTA) are expected to decide on a new schedule today (28 November). It is likely to include an INTA vote in January, following which all Members of the European Parliament would have the opportunity to vote on CETA in plenary in February.
  • Examples illustrating the broad coalition of voices criticising CETA include:

Response to Joint Interpretative Declaration on CETA

On October 5, 2016, a joint EU-Canada Declaration on CETA was released in Brussels and began to circulate publicly. The Declaration was supposed to be an official reply to the very specific amendments to CETA proposed by labour unions, parliamentarians, social justice organizations, and the public in both Canada and Europe. Instead of addressing these specific concerns, the Declaration completely ignores them.

And, in a display of arrogant condescension, the Declaration simply reiterates and clarifies what is already in the agreement, as if the various legitimate concerns that it purports to respond to have neither merit nor substance.

In light of this refusal to respond seriously to the substantiated and well-researched concerns of civil society, the members of the Trade Justice Network cannot accept this empty and meaningless Declaration as anything more than public relations. As well, as various legal scholars and trade experts have indicated, the Declaration is certainly not legally binding. This is consistent with the entire process of the CETA agreement so far. CETA was negotiated in secret, without any attempt whatsoever to include citizens, and has not taken into consideration the reasonable and legitimate amendments proposed by civil society.


With the release of the CETA text on the government of Canada website, researchers, policy analysts, and interested citizens in labour unions, social justice groups, civil society organizations, and the public carefully read the agreement, identified specific areas of concern, and have repeatedly articulated these concerns in research documents, essays, and editorials. Furthermore, these specific concerns have been consistently raised with government officials in Canada and Europe in letters, public consultations, and in large-scale public protests and mobilizations, which in some cases numbered in the hundreds of thousands. At the same time, and all along, we have been proposing clear and very specific amendments to the CETA text.

Labour and civil society groups asked for specific amendments in the chapters dealing with the Investor Court System, the right to regulate, regulatory cooperation, public services, investment protection, public procurement, and labour and environmental protection. Proposed amendments to the text included language that would create binding enforcement mechanisms to protect workers’ wages and rights, to enforce health and safety standards, and to ensure environmental sustainability. Citizens in both Canada and the EU also demanded that the text be amended to remove all mention of the disturbing investor court system that bypasses our existing judicial system to give private foreign investors special legal privileges and to provide private foreign investors the extraordinary power to sue democratically elected governments for their policies and legislation.

The October 5 Declaration

In Canada, our specific concerns and proposed amendments were largely ignored by the original signatory to the agreement, Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party government. With the defeat of the Conservatives, and the election of a new government in October 2015, we were led to believe that these concerns would finally be taken seriously, and that the text could be amended. Hopes were raised when government officials signalled a willingness to listen to the specific criticisms raised in particular by the Canadian Labour Congress and its German counterpart, the DGB.

With the October 5 Declaration, it is evident that these hopes were decidedly misguided. The Declaration fails to address the shortcomings of CETA, and essentially ignores the concerns that have been raised. There is nothing whatsoever in the Declaration that acknowledges the specific demands and recommendations of civil society. There is no attempt at all to respond to proposed amendments, indeed none of the proposed amendments were even mentioned at all.

Instead the declaration touts the supposed virtues of CETA, and tries to depict it in an excessively optimistic light. The critics of CETA are served up nothing more than clarity and trite, empty reassurances: “a clear and unambiguous statement” of what was already agreed to.

Citizens and civil society groups asked for amendments. The response was stale platitudes. The Declaration simply reiterates the claims made about the supposedly wonderful social and economic benefits of CETA, without any even token attempt to validate those claims. They are true because they are stated to be true.

In other words, the Declaration is based on several patronizing assumptions: either citizens have not read the CETA agreement, or we don’t really understand what’s in it, or we just can’t see that it “promotes and protects our shared values.” The Declaration assumes that the critics are wrong, and that CETA doesn’t do what the critics allege. All these assumptions are egregiously flawed and deeply condescending.

And so the Declaration is weak and largely meaningless. And even if it wasn’t meaningless, in any case it is legally irrelevant, devoid of any legal content or significance. It does not even offer the pretext of interpreting the CETA provisions in legal terms. It does not alter or amend CETA in any substantive way, and it articulates commitments that are aspirational, non-binding, and lacking any effective legal enforcement.[1]

For all these reasons, the Declaration has to be viewed as nothing more than a public relations exercise—an attempt to mollify critics of CETA, but not to take them seriously. In the words of Greenpeace, the Declaration “has the legal weight of a holiday brochure.”

 The False Promise of Progress and Prosperity

Those who are promoting CETA typically invoke high-minded metaphors to justify what they are doing: tearing down walls, building bridges, promoting partnership and prosperity. They will also have us believe that those who oppose it are rejecting an open, modern, progressive economy.

The truth is, their words are empty rhetoric. Contrary to their heady attempt to brand their self-image, those who promote CETA are not the progressive voices of Canada. There is absolutely nothing progressive about a trade deal that gives special powers and privileges to foreign private investors, that undermines democratic and legal institutions, and that does nothing to meaningfully protect our health, our jobs, our labour standards, or our environment.

For us in Canada, what is equally perplexing is that all this is coming from a government that campaigned on a promise of “Real Change.” Regrettably, this new government has done nothing to substantively alter the very same CETA agreement negotiated by the previous Conservative government. It is more than a little bewildering how a trade deal negotiated by the Stephen Harper regime—widely recognized as one of the most reactionary governments in Canadian history—can by some magical process become a truly progressive agreement because the government—not the agreement—changed. The simple fact of the matter is that Justin Trudeau is now championing Stephen Harper’s trade deal, making a mockery of his campaign promise for “Real Change.”

As for the supposed economic benefits of CETA, the reality is that there is no clear empirical data that trade liberalization is the engine of growth, and there is no credible evidence that unregulated trade benefits everyone equally. In fact, there is lots of evidence to the contrary. The most recent example is a September 2016 study from Tufts University that predicts that CETA will result in significant job losses, slowing economic growth, and increasing inequality on both sides of the Atlantic.[2]

Despite the lofty claims, the actual legacy of the recent decades of globalized trade deals has been dismal. What these trade agreements have really done is help constitute and consolidate both income inequality and climate change on a scale unprecedented in human history. There is no evidence to support the often-cited slogan that a rising tide lifts all boats. On the contrary, what has coincided with liberalized trade deals has been the golden age of corporate wealth, greed, power, and environmental destruction. Instead of better jobs, the North American industrial heartland has witnessed shuttered factories. In their place emerged an explosion of precarious and part-time work without pensions or benefits. Wages have stagnated. Tax revenues have plummeted, and with the reduction in fiscal capacity, there have been no new social programs since 1980.

Conclusion: Meaningful Dialogue Required

If the signatories to CETA are serious about addressing the real and legitimate concerns raised by the democratic voices of Canada and the European Union, we call on them to open the agreement, enter into genuine and meaningful dialogue with civil society organizations and the public, and discuss the possibility of real amendments and changes to the text.

Larry Brown                                                      Blair Redlin

Co-Chair, TJN                                                   Co-Chair, TJN


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[1]. See for example, Gus Van Harten, “Comments on the EU-Canada Declaration on the CETA” (Osgoode Legal Studies Research Paper No. 6/2017, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, Toronto, ON, October 8, 2016),

[2]. Pierre Kohler and Servaas Storm, “CETA Without Blinders: How Cutting ‘Trade Costs and more’ Will Cause Unemployment, Inequality and Welfare Losses” (GDAE Working Paper 16-03, Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University, Medford, MA, September 2016),