Canada Wants a New Nafta to Include Gender and Indigenous Rights

Canada Wants a New Nafta to Include Gender and Indigenous Rights

Canada’s idea of a fair trade deal seems very different from President Trump’s.

Canada’s idea of a fair trade deal seems very different from President Trump’s.

Just two days before heading into the first round of negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau finally laid out its core objectives, and second on the list was to make the 23-year-old pact “more progressive.”

By that, the government meant not only strengthening the existing labor safeguards and environmental provisions, but also adding whole new chapters on both gender and indigenous rights, and addressing climate change.

Those “progressive elements,” the foreign affairs minister, Chrystia Freeland, told a university audience in Ottawa on Monday morning, “are how we guarantee that the modernized Nafta will not only be an exemplary free-trade deal, it will also be a fair trade deal.”

She later repeated the remarks to a parliamentary committee on international trade, but did not provide much detail as to how her government’s proposals would be carried out.

The speeches were the first time the government had revealed its goals heading into the much-anticipated talks, despite sending lobbyists to Washington and across the United States over the past nine months to ensure the trade deal survives President Trump’s rancor and threats to rip it up.

Tracey Ramsey, a member of the New Democratic Party in Parliament, posed a question during the committee meeting that many Canadians wondered about. “How confident can you be that the Americans will even include the words ‘climate change’ when they pulled out of what happened in Paris?” she asked. “They have a president who claims that climate change is a Chinese hoax.”

With much of the Canadian economy entwined in Nafta, Mr. Trudeau has admitted this government has no Plan B for its demise. Instead, he assembled a war room to ensure its survival.

“We’ve explained to our southern friends, at every opportunity, that Canada is the largest export market for two thirds of U.S. states, and America’s biggest overall customer — by far,” Ms. Freeland said on Monday. “Indeed, Canada buys more from the U.S. than China, the U.K. and Japan combined.”

Through Ms. Freeland’s speech, the Trudeau government again made clear that it sees itself as among the emerging champions of progressive ideals in the world.

“There are too many communities in our prosperous nation where people do not feel prosperous, where they instead feel left behind by an economy that is increasingly divided between the wealthy 1 percent at the very top, and everyone else,” Ms. Freeland said.

“If we don’t act now,” she added, “Canadians may lose faith in the open society, in immigration and in free trade — just as many have across the Western industrialized world.”

And in what was perhaps a reference to Mr. Trump, who has accused Mexicans of stealing American jobs and being rapists, she said the first essential thing for the country to do is “avoid scapegoating the “other.”

Canada recently added its first gender chapter in its 20-year-old free-trade deal with Chile, which called for both countries to apply a gender lens to trade. As for the “indigenous chapter,” Ms. Freeland told reporters it was a “fresh area” that came at the suggestion of Perry Bellegarde, who represents most of the country’s indigenous people.

Trade agreements usually include prohibitions more than encouragements, and without binding repercussions, those can seem weak. But even weak acknowledgments can establish expectations for future deals, said Laura Dawson, director of the Canada Institute in Washington.

“It may be an opportunity for creative rule making,” said Ms. Dawson, a former senior adviser on economic affairs at the American Embassy in Ottawa. “If a trade agreement is going to have longevity, it needs to reflect the broader public values and not just be a way to ease the trade of things.”

The Trudeau government has made gender equality, climate change and reconciliation with indigenous people central to its policies. The first thing Mr. Trudeau did as prime minister was to name the country’s first gender-balanced cabinet.

Among the six objectives laid out by Ms. Freeland, many were not surprising to Canadians, who have been deluged by panicky news reports since Mr. Trump first threatened to destroy the agreement. The government wants to safeguard the country’s culture, and protect portions of its tightly managed agricultural system, which Mr. Trump has called a disgrace and unfair to American farmers when it comes to dairy. The system limits dairy, poultry and egg production and assigns them quotas, and protects farmers from import competition by imposing tariffs of up to 300 percent on some products.

And in blatant conflict with Mr. Trump’s “Buy American” campaign, Canada also wants to ban local-content provisions for government contracts, which Ms. Freeland called “political junk food, superficially appetizing, but unhealthy in the long run.”

Three other core demands are less likely to rankle American negotiators: a modernization of Nafta to reflect technology that has developed since 1994; the slashing of red tape; and the easing of travel for professionals between the countries.

Noting that the country had walked out of trade negotiations before and was willing to do so again, Ms. Freeland remarked that “we are committed to a good deal, not just any deal.”

But, it was clear to most Canadians that her bluster was addressed to them just as much as American negotiators who will sit across from her team on Wednesday, in the first of many talks that are expected to last months. Canadians may agree that Nafta is good for the country’s economy, but the notion of being pushed around by their larger, more powerful neighbor sets their teeth on edge.

“Our approach in these talks will be in keeping with our national character; hard-working, fact-based, cordial, animated by the spirit of good will and the pursuit of compromise,” Ms. Freeland said. “We also know that there is no contradiction between being polite, and being strong. It is no accident that hockey is our national sport.” es un sitio web oficial del Gobierno Argentino