Respecting Human Rights When Negotiating Trade Deals


Donald Trump ran a campaign that championed the need to renegotiate the North American Free trade Agreement (NAFTA) to better help Americans. Trump’s erratic behaviour means we won’t know if NAFTA will ever be renegotiated, however the need to talk about trade in a new lens is needed (of course, we have no idea what Trump would want to change in NAFTA). Ed Broadbent has been calling for Canada to put people first when discussing trade with other countries, including NAFTA. Historically, trade deals (NAFTA, WTO, CETA, etc.) have the sole goal of making companies richer at the cost of environmental protections and human rights. This has sent global civilization on a race to the bottom.

Broadbent argues this does not need to be the case; we can use trade deals to help people and the environment.

The coming renegotiation of the North American free-trade agreement and the possibility of a trade and investment deal with China should not be occasions to replicate past errors. Rather, they should be used as an opportunity to address this serious democratic deficit. While job losses and the shift of income from wages to profits have been in part due to technological change, the latest report of the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook notes that global competition has also produced a drop in the share of labour income in middle-class jobs in advanced economies as well as a drop in the workers’ share of income within developing countries. Together with the decline of unions, such competition has contributed to the marked rise in inequality within most countries around the world.

In renegotiating NAFTA and pursuing trade talks with China, Canada should avoid, not repeat, the errors of past trade agreements. Why should agreements provide effective enforcement mechanisms to protect the property rights of corporations but deny the human rights of workers? Why should we protect the one per cent at the expense of the majority?

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