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Trade deals: the conflict between evidence and ideology

Last Wednesday the International Trade Committee came to the St. John’s Sheraton Hotel to get public input into the proposed, but not yet ratified, Trans Pacific Partnership. The TPP is a trade agreement that Canada has negotiated with 11 other Pacific Rim countries.

Formal presentations were given by business, social justice and labour organizations. This was a fair balance between pro- and anti-TPP opinions and debate was polite and efficient. So why am I disappointed with the process?

With the exception of Tracey Ramsay of the NDP, one had the sense that the committee was really not that interested in hearing about the down side of the TPP.  

The lopsided nature of the questioning was so obvious that one member of the audience, not a member of any trade justice group, spoke up at the end about what she perceived as the unacceptable committee bias.

Of course, certain sectors of the economy will benefit from the TPP. However, a United Nations UNCTAD study predicts that Canada’s value added exports will decline overall by 26 per cent under the TPP. A respected Tufts University study also forecasts the TPP will increase inequality everywhere. The highest per capita job losses will actually be in Canada.

According to the newest OECD report, delivered just two weeks ago, world trade has fallen steadily since 2009 and is no longer driving GDP growth. One reason is that governments of emerging countries are beginning to require a higher “made at home” content to goods sold in their country.

Imagine that! They want to protect local businesses and jobs against the excesses of globalization.

So do I and I’m not alone. According to the same OECD report, voters in OECD countries increasingly no longer define themselves as left or right wing. Instead, the divide is between being either anti or pro globalization.

That dynamic has shown itself in Brexit, in the way trade issues have become a major factor in the U.S. election, and in recent European protests. Last week 320,000 Germans took to the streets in multiple cities to protest both the CETA trade agreement with Canada and the TTIP trade agreement between Europe and the U.S.

In her Saturday column on the TPP, Lana Payne talked about the changing rhetoric of Trade Minister Freeland who is now saying that while globalization may have been good for a narrow elite, it hasn’t been good for most people.

Sympathetic words from our trade minister, but essentially meaningless, given the unseemly haste with which she and Prime Minister Trudeau have pushed to get provisional passage of CETA. According to another Tufts report released just two weeks ago “CETA will cause unemployment, inequality, welfare losses and a reduction of intra-EU trade.”

Has that really come as a surprise to our leaders?

That brings me back to the Trade Committee. The participating MPs have received overwhelming evidence that the TPP is a bad deal — from the likes of former Blackberry CEO, Jim Balsillie, from Nobel Prize winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz, and from independent research organizations. Yet, the impression that I came away with from Wednesday’s session is that, while the NDP may have rethought their support for trade agreements, Conservative and Liberal enthusiasm for free trade hasn’t changed much since the Harper government era. The ideology isn’t shifting in spite of being pummeled by the evidence.

That realization was personally discouraging. And it didn’t help to find, when I got out to the hotel parking lot at the end of the session, that I had a $92 dollar parking ticket!


Marilyn Reid




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