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NAFTA Negotiations: Chrystia Freeland Praises Feds’ ‘Made-In-Canada’ Approach To Talks

Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland leads the NAFTA council in discussion on the modernization of the North American Free Trade Agreement, in Toronto on Sept. 22, 2017.

TORONTO — Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland touted Ottawa’s made-in-Canada approach to NAFTA renegotiations Friday as she met with an array of advisers — from former politicians to labour representatives — ahead of the third round of talks in Ottawa this weekend.

“It has been, I think, noticed by Canadians, a source of strength to our negotiators, and noticed by our partners, the extent to which we have a real made-in-Canada approach to these negotiations,” Freeland said Friday. She was in Toronto to hold the first in-person meeting of the North American Free Trade Agreement advisory council created in August to advise Ottawa as it renegotiates the trade agreement.

“I really feel that gives us real strength as we move into the third round of these really important negotiations.”

The council, which includes former federal Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose and Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff, has met a number of times, Freeland said, but this is the first face-to-face sit down.

“I think we all thought it would be a good idea to do that, particularly now on the eve of the third round and the first one that will be held in Canada,” she said.

Freeland’s comments come as the third round of NAFTA negotiations between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico starts Saturday in Ottawa, marking the first set of talks held on Canadian turf.

Freeland also met Friday with members of the original NAFTA negotiation team, including former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, and representatives of the Canadian auto industry.

The Canadian automotive industry is anxiously waiting to see if the next round of NAFTA negotiations will provide some clarity on American demands that vehicles must have “substantial” U.S. content to qualify for duty-free movement within North America.

Automobiles a core issue

Rules of origin — one of the most complicated and contentious issues on the table, particularly when it comes to the auto sector — is on the agenda for the third round.

But while Canadian officials had been hopeful the U.S. would finally put some flesh on the bones of its position over the course of the five-day session, they say it’s now uncertain whether American negotiators are ready to show their hand.

Flavio Volpe, president of the Automobile Parts Manufacturers Association, says everyone in government and industry is ready to spring into action the moment the U.S. tables its position but, in the meantime, they’re all “circling the airport.” He suspects they’ll have to continue circling for some weeks yet.

As far as Canadian officials are concerned, automobiles — specifically, the exodus of auto industry jobs and investment to low-wage Mexico — are at the root of President Donald Trump’s threat to rip up the North American Free Trade Agreement. And resolving the problem will be the key to the success, or failure, of efforts to rewrite the trilateral trade pact.

Hence, the eagerness to find out precisely what is the American bottom line on rules of origin.

Reports in the U.S. suggest the Trump administration wants to raise that to more than 70 per cent and add a requirement that anywhere between 35 and 50 per cent must be made specifically in the United States.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, Mexico's Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer smile as they pose for a photo after addressing the media to close the second round of NAFTA talks involving the United States, Mexico and Canada at Secretary of Economy headquarters in Mexico City, Mexico, Sept. 5, 2017.

Moreover, the U.S. reportedly wants to add steel and electronics, which aren’t currently included, to the list of components whose country of origin must be traced.

Automakers on both sides of the border contend the U.S. position would disrupt their fully integrated North American supply chain, add costly red tape and ultimately weaken the North American industry’s competitiveness.

And trade experts on both sides of the border are warning that it could backfire.

Canadian officials, who are not authorized to speak publicly on the negotiations, believe tightening rules of origin is not the way to go. They contend the most effective way to reduce Mexico’s disproportionate share of auto investment and jobs is to strengthen labour and environmental standards under NAFTA.

With files from Armina Ligaya in Toronto


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Don’t Let NAFTA 2.0 Stand In The Way Of Pharmacare

Canada is closer today than ever before to achieving a public prescription drug plan for everyone. Provinces, cities, labour unions, businesses, doctors, nurses, health-care workers, economists and patient groups have come together to form one of the broadest coalitions in Canadian history — one in favour of a national pharmacare program. Nevertheless, NAFTA poses an existential threat to the dream of establishing such a program. After two rounds of NAFTA 2.0 negotiations, the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU) is calling on federal negotiators to defend Canada’s interests and protect our country’s pathway to pharmacare.

If the Trump administration has its way in NAFTA 2.0, Canada will be forced to lengthen lucrative monopolies to Big Pharma giants for costly and life-saving biologic medications. Billions could be added needlessly to yearly medication costs in Canada.

This wouldn’t be the first time Canada has conceded to Big Pharma in a trade deal. Two years ago Canada made concessions on patent terms in the free trade agreement with the European Union. Some estimate this will raise prescription drug costs in Canada by nearly $1 billion per year when fully implemented. If NAFTA 2.0 generates yet another unnecessary spike in prescription drug prices, Canadians will pay — either with their pocket books or with their health. Adding salt to the wounds, rising costs could also dissuade the federal government from finally introducing a Canada-wide pharmacare plan.

The math isn’t hard: spend $1 billion to save $8 billion!

Pharmacare is a common-sense solution to excessively high prescription drug costs and the financial barriers to accessing medicines.

As nurses, we know the lack of coverage and high prices continue to force millions of patients in Canada to reduce dosages or avoid taking prescriptions altogether. Patients become sicker, lives are threatened and, too often, avoidable tragedies occur. In fact, nearly one in four Canadian households report members not having the money to take prescription medicines as prescribed.

Pharmacare also holds the key to unlocking billions in health-care dollars currently being wasted by the inefficient multi-payer system. A recent CFNU-commissioned report, penned by economist Hugh Mackenzie, found that Canada wasted $62-billion health-care dollars between 2006 and 2015, because a pharmacare program wasn’t in place.

Canada's Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland speaks to journalists on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, August 14, 2017, on the topic of NAFTA renegotiation.

Despite the broad consensus across civil society in favour of pharmacare, and the evidence base to support it, the federal government remains the last major holdout. Similar to most good policy ideas, the buck stops at the dollar sign. The federal government’s reluctance seemingly stems from the (estimated) sum of $1 billion required to launch the program. However, peer-reviewed studies have found that pharmacare would save patients, businesses and, ultimately, governments upwards of $8 billion per year. For once, the math isn’t hard: spend $1 billion to save $8 billion!

As Mackenzie put it: “Politically, [pharmacare] is a no-brainer — eliminate waste and deliver better services.”

It’s long past time for Canada to expand medicare to include public coverage for medications for everyone — let’s not let NAFTA stand in our way!

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UK debt crisis and the onward march of neoliberalism | Letters

Quantitative easing allowed the wealthy to get out of cash and into assets, writes Martin London; the provisionally passed Ceta deal is TTIP by the back door, says John Airs. Plus letters by David Dodd and Paul Nicolson

The debt crisis Larry Elliott predicts (Borrowed time: Threadneedle Street is right to fear a bubble, 19 September), is the result of our failure to resolve the financial crisis of 2008. The credit crunch demonstrated that western economies were living beyond their means and that there was too much money and too much debt in the system. The required solution was for creditors to give up a considerable portion of their wealth, and return living space to debtors. Significant austerity was unavoidable.

Governments chose quantitative easing instead, which allowed the wealthy to get out of cash and into assets, retaining or regaining any loss caused by the crash. The rest of us had to bear the brunt of austerity: cuts in benefits, the erosion of full-time jobs, the rise of the gig economy and increases in rents. Additional debt, funded by the liquidity of quantitative easing, enabled millions temporarily to retain a semblance of normal living: but the unequal distribution of wealth has not gone away.

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