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Secretive TPP Talks Have No Democratic Mandate: Unifor President

TORONTO, Aug. 7, 2015 /CNW/ - Canadian trade negotiators have no mandate to accept terms in Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations that would damage vital Canadian industries, says Jerry Dias, President of Unifor.

"These talks have occurred completely in secret.  Business leaders may know what's on the table, but Canadians don't.  And now a federal election has been called, Canadian officials have absolutely no mandate to negotiate away our industries and jobs," said Dias.

Dias called on Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development (DFATD) officials to release details of concessions they have made in the negotiations, so that Canadians can have full understanding of what is at stake going into the upcoming election.

Most discussion of the TPP in Canada to date has revolved around the fate of agricultural marketing programs in the dairy and poultry industries (which would suffer dramatic damage if demands to abolish Canada's marketing rules were accepted).  But there are many other industries which would also experience major dislocation under a deal - including the auto sector, machinery, and other manufacturing.

Unifor represents about 40,000 members working in the auto assembly and auto parts industries.  Because the TPP would grant tariff-free access to the North American market to vehicles from Japan (potentially even vehicles with high levels of non-Japanese content, due to heavy use of low-cost parts from China, Thailand, and other non-TPP countries), it would cause a significant erosion of North American sales for Canadian-made vehicles and parts.

Canada already incurs an annual $5 billion deficit in bilateral automotive trade with Japan.  In 2014, Canada imported 139 times as much value in automotive products from Japan, as we exported to Japan.

News reports indicate that U.S. negotiators reached a private agreement with Japan on automotive aspects of the proposed deal, without even engaging Canadian and Mexican negotiators in the discussion.  "This travesty simply confirms that the TPP negotiating process is fundamentally flawed, and must be reconstituted on a more transparent and even-handed footing," Dias added.

The immediate experience of the Canada-Korea free trade deal (which came into effect on January 1 of this year) confirms the asymmetric impacts of free trade with state-managed Asian economies.  Canada's exports to Korea fell 9 percent during the first 6 months of free trade (compared to year-ago levels), while imports grew 5 percent.  The already-large bilateral trade deficit thus widened substantially, and could reach a record $4 billion by year end.

Other potential impacts of the TPP include higher prescription drug prices (resulting from longer patents), restrictions on public procurement (of everything from public transit vehicles to pharmaceuticals), the creation of a quasi-judicial arbitration system solely for use of global investors, and limits on future regulatory action by governments in sectors ranging from telecommunications to transportation to banking.

"This deal isn't even about trade," Dias said.  "It is motivated by a desire to enforce a very pro-business set of rules and regulations on the entire Pacific Rim economy.  Canadians cannot contemplate these choices without a full debate, with full information."

Canada already has free trade deals with four of the countries participating in the TPP talks.  Of the seven others, Japan is by far the most important.

The Unifor President also outlined some of the conditions that should be met, for Canadian participation in the TPP.  These conditions include:

  • Rejection of the undemocratic investor-state dispute settlement system, which allows global companies to sue national governments outside of normal judicial processes. (These ISDS provisions have sparked strong opposition in many countries.)

  • Full respect for democratic elections, human rights, and labour freedoms by every participating nation.  Some TPP participants do not meet the test of basic democratic conditions (including Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam), and this can cause economic and trade distortions (as well as tremendous human suffering).

  • Strong safeguard and trade balance provisions, to ensure that trade in key product categories (like auto) is reciprocal and mutually beneficial.  These provisions should include measures to "snap back" tariff concessions in the event of damaging trade imbalances or blocked market access.

"Unifor strongly supports measures to strengthen the quantity and quality of Canada's exports," Dias stressed.  "But bitter experience shows that signing more NAFTA-style trade deals has exactly the opposite effect."

Unifor is Canada's largest union in the private sector, representing more than 305,000 workers. It was formed Labour Day weekend 2013 when the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union merged.