Presentation to Standing Committee on International Trade (CIIT)


Jerry Dias, Unifor National President
March 8, 2016


Good morning Mister Chairman and members of the committee.

My name is Jerry Dias and I am the National President of Unifor, Canada’s largest trade union in the private sector. With me is Angelo DiCaro, in our union’s Research Department.

Unifor represents over 310,000 workers across the country, in each province and in nearly every industry.

Our union has paid close attention to the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, and the negotiations that have taken place since 2012.

Our union – like most Canadians – viewed these negotiations from the sidelines.

I’m glad that the current government has promised public consultation on the deal.

We hope these consultations are meaningful and that they go beyond the backrooms and boardrooms and into local community centres and town halls.

We are also glad the government has promised to release an economic impact assessment of the TPP.

I would urge the government to ensure this study is done independently and using a credible assessment model.  We don’t need more government studies that simply aim to convince Canadians all “free trade” deals are good deals.  

Like in the Canada-EU CETA, we don’t need an economic assessment built on fantasy-land assumptions:

  • That no one can ever be unemployed
  • That businesses won’t shift capital investments overseas
  • That trade flows aren’t impacted by exchange rate fluctuations.

Canadians need to know the facts about this trade deal. And Canadians need to be empowered to decide if the TPP is, in fact, in our best interests.

One of our biggest concerns about the TPP is that it will undermine investment in our most strategic, value-added industries.

I hope this committee understands Canada’s manufacturing trade deficit sits at $122 billion. That’s a record, and not one we should be proud of. That deficit has been widening, each year, since 2004.

At a time when developed countries like the U.S., Germany, Japan and others are actively investing in and managing their productive industries, Canada hasn’t followed suit.

Cutting tariffs doesn’t make an industrial strategy. In fact, it’ll likely make a bad trade situation worse.

The auto sector is a case in point.

Our auto trade deficit in Canada is $19 billion.

This is a pretty significant drop from the $14 billion surplus we once enjoyed, and not that long ago.  

While we appreciate the need to diversify auto exports away from the United States, the reality is Canada’s current auto exports aren’t desired in countries like Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and even Korea, for that matter. Auto exports to these countries are currently non-existent.

So what’s free trade done?

Well, we’re one year into the Canada-Korea agreement. And Korea is an economy structured not unlike Japan.

In that first year, as we predicted, Canada’s manufacturing exports declined - by 3.9%. And imports grew by 9%. Our manufacturing trade deficit with Korea grew to $4 billion. Not exactly what Canadians were told would happen.

Much of what the government is banking on in the TPP is that Canada will be granted new access to the Japanese market, particularly for autos.

Japan has no import tariffs on autos. The problem with Japan isn’t about tariffs. There are deeper, structural issues at play and unfortunately these weren’t addressed in the deal.  

Despite this, Canada still agreed to accelerate the phase out of its 6.1% auto tariff with Japan - 5 times faster than what the U.S. committed to.  

And we accepted the weakest Rules of Origin thresholds that we’ve ever negotiated– rules struck in a side deal between the U.S. and Japan, where we had no input.

I hope the committee understands our concern that thousands of auto jobs will be at risk from the TPP. And without a federal auto strategy, future investments will be hard to come by.

Now I want to stress that Unifor members’ concerns on the TPP extend beyond auto.

For instance, telecom workers worry that the TPP will broker new rules on foreign ownership. Forestry workers want clarification on whether raw-log export regulations will be protected. Health care workers are furious that drug costs will likely skyrocket. Media workers wonder if we’ve given up our right to regulate online TV services. Food processors are concerned that facilities may close on account of more dairy imports. And the list goes on.

There appear to be far more questions over this trade deal than answers.

Minister Freeland has indicated that Parliament will either accept the TPP as is, or reject it. There’s no going back.  

Telling Canadians to “take-it-or-leave-it” is a tough proposition.  The truth is Canadians have been poorly informed of this deal. And that’s partly because it’s been kept secret for so long.

Meaningful public consultation informed by credible, independent research is a must. But if meaningful changes cannot be made to the TPP at this point, then it’s not a deal that our union can support.  

Thank you for the invitation and the opportunity to speak with you today. We’re happy to take any questions on this you may have.