The New Democratic Party has always believed in expanding and diversifying our trade relationships. This is why New Democrats welcomed progress toward a comprehensive trade agreement with Europe. We support deeper economic relations with the European Union – countries with some of the highest environmental and labour standards in the world.
Europe is a vital market for Canadian goods and services. A good deal with Europe could increase those exports and lower prices for Canadian families without compromising our ability to defend Canadian interests or protect the public. If the government delivers such a deal, it will have the NDP’s support.
However, there still is no actual agreement and many important details are still being finalized. This is exactly why the NDP has asked repeatedly to see the text – because when it comes to trade agreements, details matter. Without careful scrutiny, you can end up unable to ratify an agreement, the way the Conservatives have had to put the brakes on the FIPA agreement with China. A single clause or definition can open up valuable opportunities for some industries and create real problems for others. The livelihoods of hard-working Canadians are at stake. There are also important issues of policy independence that affect what governments can do – from regulatory oversight to economic stimulus.
All trade negotiations require give and take, but the tradeoffs matter. Is there full reciprocity? Are the gains worth the losses? Canadians deserve a full examination of the facts. Unfortunately, there has been little transparency to date. And the summary document that has been tabled in Parliament leaves many questions unanswered.
For instance, country-of-origin requirements have yet to be finalized. The exact level of Canadian content required will make a world of difference to Canadian manufacturers who operate within North America’s integrated supply chains. Also important are rules on investment and dispute settlement. Will we be able to maintain the regulations that kept our banking system strong when others wobbled or collapsed? Ensuring that any deal doesn’t impede the government’s ability to make such public-interest regulations is a detail of no small importance.
New Democrats also believe that just as the government should negotiate hard to create opportunities for Canadian industries, there is a common-sense role for Ottawa to play in providing support and retraining for the sectors that will be negatively affected. For example, we are concerned about the impact on Canada’s dairy farmers and the cheese industry. The government has promised some kind of compensation, but what does that mean? How will it help these job-creating Canadian industries adapt and grow in new market conditions?
The government has also promised to compensate provinces for what it admits will be higher prescription drug costs. Are these binding commitments or simply more empty promises? What will this mean for the people in need of these drugs? The details are being glossed over and Canadians deserve honest answers.
If it is well-negotiated, a deal with Europe would offer Canadians a valuable opportunity to boost exports, reduce consumer prices and diversify our trade without lowering our standards. But while the upsides of the deal are being hyped in broad strokes, many important questions remain.
In this context, Canadians should welcome the progress that has been made to date, but press to see the final text before passing judgment. New Democrats will certainly keep doing so on their behalf.
Tom Mulcair is Leader of the Official Opposition and Leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada.