OP/ED: Let's trade rhetoric for real debate

By Contributor
August 17th, 2011

By: MP Robert Chisholm, NDP International Trade Critic How many Canadians know the Harper government is busy in the backrooms of Brussels negotiating a trade deal with the European Union? Not many.    That’s remarkable. Because done right, this deal could open up new markets for Canadian companies and their goods and services. But done badly, this deal could expose our jobs and communities to unacceptable risks.  Given what’s at stake, you would think the government would be consulting with Canadians and addressing our concerns. But in Stephen Harper’s Ottawa, questioning any element of a trade deal quickly gets you labelled “anti-trade” or “protectionist.” Ed Fast even used his very first speech as Canada’s Trade Minister to launch a frontal assault on opposition New Democrats—using this phony rhetoric to try and squelch public debate about the Conservative’s approach to trade talks.  Ask yourselves: who in this country is actually against trade? Certainly not New Democrats—or anybody who understands Canada’s historic strengths as a trading nation. Trade represents nearly half our GDP. Building up our economy so it can better sustain more quality jobs can only happen when we develop new international markets for our value-added goods.  But the devil is in the details. These deals can create jobs or ship them overseas. These deals can foster growth that supports our social programs or put these very programs at risk. They can promote human rights abroad or undermine Canadian values at home. And they can enrich our communities with new opportunities—or hollow them out.  Contrary to what some claim, this isn’t a debate between “free trade” against “protectionism.” This century’s economic challenges compel us to move beyond the old “free trade” model of blanket deregulation alongside unfettered foreign access to Canadian resources. Instead, we need domestic policies that help us take full advantage of opportunities on the global front. Effective trade agreements can open doors for our businesses without tying our hands at home.  Our Trade Minister forgets how Canada became one of the world’s best places to live. We owe a great deal to progressive industrial and social policies that fostered a strong, family-supporting domestic economy – and sought to ensure its survival in a competitive world.  Today, the countries we compete with back their global businesses with domestic industrial policies designed to strengthen their presence in world markets. The Harper government has no such industrial strategy. Entering trade negotiations on these terms is the economic equivalent of unilateral disarmament in the face of an aggressive enemy. If we choose to throw Canada’s doors open to foreign multinationals, we’d better have domestic policies in place to support our own corporate flagships on the world stage.  In the European negotiations around pharmaceuticals, for example, giving added protection to brand-name companies makes no sense at all if we have no policies in place to protect Canadian consumers from rising costs. But Canada hasn’t even leveraged our federal, provincial and territorial bulk purchasing power to lower costs, let alone set up a pan-Canadian drug insurance plan.  New Democrats believe trade must be a priority, but every agreement should deliver a clear net benefit to Canada. This means bargaining hard for deals that open up new markets while protecting Canada’s public services. This means fostering quality job creation by promoting exports of value-added goods over bulk exports of raw materials. This means making sure public health, environment and human rights concerns are front and centre.

Categories: GeneralOp/Ed