TPP auto talks resume with 26,000 jobs at risk


TORONTO, Sept. 21, 2015 /CNW/ - With as many as 26,000 Canadian auto jobs at risk in the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks, Unifor is urging Canadian negotiators to stand firm on regional content rules for automotive products, and other auto-related provisions.

Unifor understands that negotiators from Canada, the U.S., Mexico, and Japan are meeting in the U.S. this week to discuss auto features of the proposed TPP, ahead of a possible ministerial meeting for all TPP participants at the end of September.

"The Harper Government is rushing to sign a deal before the federal election, even if it means signing away good Canadian jobs," Unifor National President Jerry Dias said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper indicated during Thursday's leader's debate that he was prepared to sign a TPP deal regardless of the auto industry's concerns.  According to recent trade data, auto is once again Canada's top export.

Meanwhile, municipal councils in Ingersoll, Zorra Township and Essex County, major auto communities, have passed resolutions urging Ottawa to defend auto jobs in future trade negotiations. Similar motions will be discussed in several more auto communities, including Windsor on October 5.

Dias said the resolutions show that auto communities recognize the threat posed if TPP does not include adequate provisions for regional content and reciprocal trade. Unifor members are also approaching local federal candidates from all parties, seeking commitments to maintain NAFTA content rules in any TPP.

Automotive content rules have been a major controversy in TPP talks, since the U.S. and Japan made a side deal to weaken content rules within the NAFTA.  Vehicles would be tariff-free even if only 45 per cent of their content is made within the TPP zone, and auto parts with as little as 30 per cent.  Other concerns include rapid elimination of tariffs on Japanese imports, no guarantees of reciprocal exports to Japan and other Asian countries, and currency manipulation.

Unifor economist Jim Stanford calculated that such lower thresholds would reduce the required regional content by 24 percentage points, enabling much of the supply chain to move out of the TPP zone.  He estimated that could threaten as many as 26,400 Canadian auto jobs (in both parts and assembly), some $6 billion of lost auto parts shipments, and lost assembly output.

"Watering down the content thresholds amounts to opening a huge back door to our market for products made in China and other non-TPP countries," Dias said. "That is a direct threat to thousands of good Canadian manufacturing jobs – exactly the kinds of jobs we need more of."  The union leader also called for measures to ensure reciprocal trade in finished vehicles.

Unifor has also expressed concern about other aspects of the proposed TPP, including the impact of tighter patent laws on drug prices, its inclusion of anti-democratic investor-state dispute courts, and major concessions on dairy and poultry marketing boards

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.