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Harper Conservatives acknowledge TPP risk to auto sector

TORONTO, Oct. 6, 2015 /CNW/ - With today's announcement of future funding for the auto industry, the Harper Conservatives have acknowledged that the newly signed Trans-Pacific Partnership will adversely impact the sector, according to Unifor.

Today the Harper Conservatives announced that, if re-elected, they will expand auto industry programs by $100 million per year for 10 years, beginning in 2017/18, to help it cope with the effects of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (including the weakening of content rules and the rapid elimination of auto tariffs).

"We interpret this announcement as an acknowledgement by the Harper Conservatives that the TPP poses a significant threat to Canada's auto industry," said Unifor National President, Jerry Dias. "Today's announcement also suggests that after almost a decade in government, the Harper Conservatives have finally realized we need a national auto strategy to support future investment and innovation. But we can't trust the Harper Conservatives to deliver. They've had their chance to champion the auto industry and failed."

Unifor will study the proposed ten-year funding to evaluate what of this announcement is actually new money, and how it will be disbursed.  The union pointed out that previous Conservative policies (including the Automotive Innovation Fund) announced and budgeted funds that were never spent – and then later re-packaged the same funds for alternate uses. (For example, the recently announced Automotive Supplier Innovation Program was funded largely from unspent monies in the Automotive Innovation Fund.)

"Today's program won't start until 2017-18. Canada's auto industry and the communities who rely on it can't wait that long," said Dias. "For example, the fate of GM's assembly plant in Oshawa will be determined before this new announcement spends a single dollar."

Unifor welcomed the government's announcement that future auto investments would be supported with non-repayable grants.  The past Conservative policy of allowing only repayable loans (the value of which was then partly taxed back by the government) was a key barrier to winning new investments in Canadian plants.

"The bottom line is that this is just too little too late from a leader who has failed over the last nine years to do what's necessary to support and grow Canada's auto industry," said Dias.

Unifor has estimated that the TPP auto provisions will ultimately threaten 20,000 well-paying jobs in Canada's auto sector.  The TPP signed in Atlanta yesterday will eliminate Canada's 6.1 percent tariff on vehicle imports from Asia over just five years (much faster than tariffs are removed in other TPP countries), and dramatically weakens regional content rules for both autos and parts.  Under the TPP, vehicles and parts mostly made in China and other non-TPP countries would have free access to North American markets.

Unifor is Canada's largest union in the private sector, representing more than 310,000 workers, including 40,000 in the auto sector. It was formed Labour Day weekend 2013 when the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union merged.