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Deputy Prime Minister letter to party leaders regarding the new NAFTA

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Today, the Deputy Prime Minister sent a letter regarding the new NAFTA to the leaders of the Bloc Québécois, the Conservative Party of Canada, the Green Party of Canada, and the New Democratic Party. The letter can be found below:

I write to ask for your views and your support, as we, and our colleagues in the House of Commons, begin the vital task of debating the Canada-U.S.-Mexico-Agreement – the new NAFTA.

Today, with the world’s tenth-largest economy, Canada is a great trading nation. In 2017, our collective prosperity, supported by our most important trading relationship, was put in grave peril.

We faced a series of unprecedented trade actions from the United States. It was a protectionist barrage unlike any Canada has faced before. In the negotiations that followed, our counterparties proposed, effectively, the dismantling of NAFTA in all but name.

Yet we hung tough, neither escalating nor backing down. And we have emerged with our North American market access intact – indeed, more secure than ever.

That we achieved this in the present climate, when rules-based trade itself is under siege worldwide, is all the more remarkable.

This is a credit, not to any one party, but to all Canadians, in Parliament and beyond, every order of government, in corporate boardrooms and on shop floors across the country.

That includes premiers, mayors, labour unions, chambers of commerce, and the NAFTA Council.

This truly was a Team Canada effort. Recent surveys have shown overwhelming support for NAFTA among Canadians of every political stripe. Canada’s premiers have unanimously called on us to quickly approve and implement this agreement.

This national consensus is remarkable. You will recall the trade debates of the 1980s, and the great free trade election of 1988. Yet here we are, thirty-two years later; free, fair, and progressive trade has become a rallying point for Canadians, from every region and political party.    

This is a pivotal moment for our country, for North America, and for the furtherance of orderly, free, and fair trade around the world.

No one, least of all the Prime Minister or me, expects anything other than a full, frank, and vigorous debate about the new NAFTA. That’s exactly as it should be.

That said, there is a reason why more than 75 per cent of Canadians support ratification of this agreement.

First, Canadians have experienced the deep uncertainty of the past few years, collectively. It has not been easy. Our exporters and importers, our entrepreneurs and innovators, and the hundreds of thousands of Canadians whose jobs are supported by cross-border trade, are ready to put this uncertainty to rest.

This trade deal is broadly and fundamentally sound, for Canada and for Canadians.

Allow me to repeat: It preserves our market access to the biggest and most prosperous economic zone in the world – 490 million consumers, seven per cent of the global population, producing nearly 30 per cent of its GDP.

The new NAFTA is the product of the most thorough and comprehensive set of stakeholder and public consultations ever undertaken by a Canadian government in negotiating an international treaty.

Its progressive elements – stronger protections for Indigenous peoples, a free-standing environment chapter, and new, enforceable labour standards, to name three – directly benefit Canadian families, workers, and the middle class. Canadian labour unions helped develop these measures. So did Canadian business owners – from auto makers, to energy producers, miners, and builders.

Two pivotal wins stand out for me, personally: We preserved Chapter 19, NAFTA’s unique dispute settlement process for trade remedies, word for word. We fought for, and saved, the cultural exception, which helps protect Canada’s unique culture and bilingual character.

The first ensures a level playing field with a much larger trading partner. The second, the preservation of our national identity itself.

Allow me to highlight some of what the new NAFTA achieves for Canada:

  • It safeguards more than $2-billion a day in cross-border trade and tariff-free access for 99.9 per cent of our U.S.-bound exports. When the new agreement goes into force, Canada will preserve tariff-free access to our largest trading partner, supporting hundreds of thousands of Canadian jobs, now and into the future.
  • It preserves crucial cross-border auto supply chains, provides an incentive to produce vehicles in Canada, and significantly improves labour rights for Mexican workers. That helps level the playing field for Canadian workers.
  • This country won its largest trade dispute in modern times, when the U.S. dropped unjustified tariffs on our aluminum and steel in May of 2019, with no imposition of an export quota. The new NAFTA locks in this victory for thousands of Canadian workers and their families.
  • The threat of 232 tariffs on autos and auto parts was lifted November 30, 2018, the day the agreement was signed. This critical industry now has stability and room to grow and thrive.
  • The new NAFTA enshrines a competitive advantage for our steel and aluminum workers. Robust, new rules of origin for autos ensure privileged access for Canadian steel and aluminum.
  • The agreement retains and strengthens the fair and impartial dispute settlement process for trade remedies that Canada fought so hard to include in the original NAFTA. Forestry workers have long relied on this mechanism to protect their livelihoods from unjust trade actions. And it preserves NAFTA’s cultural exception, as mentioned above, which helps safeguard more than 650,000 jobs in cultural industries.
  • The agreement maintains tariff-free access to the U.S. market for Canadian ranchers and grain farmers.
  • It preserves supply management in dairy, eggs, and poultry. While the U.S. objective was to fully dismantle supply management in Canada, we have preserved it for future generations.
  • The new NAFTA removed a clause that raised concerns for some Canadians regarding energy sovereignty and security. That measure, the so-called proportionality clause, is gone. This provides additional security for Canada’s resource producers and workers that decisions on the future of their sector will be made by Canadians.
  • The new NAFTA’s environment chapter enshrines enforceable standards for clean air and marine pollution.
  • It contains ambitious and enforceable labour obligations to protect workers from discrimination in the workplace, in particular on the basis of gender.
  • The agreement contains language that recognizes and upholds the unique role of Indigenous peoples in protecting and preserving our environment.
  • The investor-state dispute resolution system – which has allowed large corporations to sue the Canadian government for regulating in the public interest – is now gone. Known as ISDS, this has cost Canadian taxpayers more than $275 million in penalties and legal fees.

All of us who are privileged to serve in Parliament appreciate the cut and thrust of politics.

We also know that Canadian prosperity and security are paramount objectives that transcend partisanship. Our European and Pacific free trade agreements, CETA and CPTPP respectively, began as Conservative government initiatives. They were both completed by a Liberal government. The New Democratic Party, for its part, supported Canada’s free trade agreement with South Korea.

Canadian parliamentarians understand that, politics aside, the interests of Canadians come first, last, and always. I am confident this applies to you and to every member of your caucus, as it does for the Prime Minister, me, and every member of our caucus, too. 

Therefore, I ask that we work together, as colleagues, to put Canada and Canadians first, and get this important work done without undue delay. I sincerely hope that you will join me in this essential, national effort.


The Honourable Chrystia Freeland, P.C., M.P.