Liberal trade record a concern as Canada embarks on NAFTA negotiations

The government has yet to resolve several trade disputes with the United States, and signed a trade deal with Europe that will lead to higher drug prices.

*This article was first published in The Hill Times

By Tracey Ramsey, MP (Essex) and NDP Critic for International Trade

Trade between Canada and the U.S. is well-balanced, highly integrated, and has far-reaching implications on all industries. Canada and the U.S. are the world’s largest trading partners, with almost $900-billion in goods and services crossing the border annually and millions of jobs dependant on trade with the U.S.

Yet here we sit: waiting for NAFTA renegotiations to officially commence without a peep from Liberal ministers about how they plan to protect those hundreds of thousands of trade-dependent jobs. However, in the din of the deafening silence from Ottawa, a review of Liberal trade failures to date may be the best way to gain insight on where our country may be going on the file.

Take for example the trade dispute over diafiltered milk, which is an imported dried and filtered milk product that food processors are using in place of Canadian real milk. This product is being imported into Canada tariff free because Canada is not enforcing cheese compositional standards, costing Canadian farmers millions of dollars. The federal government has either been asleep at the switch or turning a blind eye to this abuse of our trade rules. This is not standing up for Canadian farmers or fair trade practices.

The Liberals’ failure to secure a new softwood lumber agreement before the U.S. election is another example of their failure to deliver on Canadian trade priorities. When former international trade minister Chrystia Freeland first took up the portfolio, she stated that settling the long-standing trade dispute over softwood lumber would be something she would accomplish. But as soon as she got to the plate, she struck out—hard. The previous agreement expired in fall 2015, leaving Canadian exporters exposed to duties because this file languished on the minister’s desk.

But even in cases where the Liberal government did act, their trade posture has failed Canadians. The Liberals have touted the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) as a shining example of their progressive trade agenda. But when economists and trade critics scratched at the edges of this Conservative-negotiated deal, they saw many of the same regressive elements that make up the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement: significant job losses and widening inequality; investor state rules that grant foreign investors privileges that exceed those of states and domestic investors, where sovereignty is traded to the lowest bidder and enforced by unaccountable tribunals; and IP rules that guarantee Canadians will continue paying some of the highest prices to the biggest pharmaceutical companies for life-saving drugs.

For Canadians who hope Liberals will stand up for good-paying Canadian jobs and not cave in to pressures from the new Trump administration, this failed trade record unfortunately provides cold comfort.

Canadian workers in many sectors—from softwood lumber to dairy and auto—are worried, and the prime minister and his government are not telling them how they plan to protect their jobs. The fact is, Canada needs to stand up to the threatening and bombastic nature of this new Trump administration.

When the Liberals eventually poke their heads out of the backrooms to present some semblance of a plan to Canadians, New Democrats will be there to fight to protect good-paying Canadian jobs—as we have always done—because that’s our number one priority.