Thursday, 31 January 2013

NDP Trade Policy - Part 2: On the actual policy

Before reading, see Part 1

A series of articles has raised alarm among many NDP members. These articles insist that the NDP leadership has quietly adopted the opposition's antiquated & dogmatic approach to trade. Of course, no such thing is occurring. The NDP leadership is merely executing a "re-branding" of our traditional - prudent & merit-based - trade policy.

In a series of articles hosted here, we will examine the NDP's contemporary trade strategy & all related issues of significance.


The past article highlighted the dangers of utilizing second-hand sources to discern NDP trade policy. In this particular article, we will utilize "official sources" to determine the substance of contemporary NDP trade policy.

Standard practice would have NDP members seek enlightenment at the official website. But at the height of media coverage (late 2012), the website offered no clear & singular document explaining contemporary NDP trade policy. As most of the site's content is organized in "blog" format, members could be forgiven for refusing to wade through the plentiful results of a keyword search. However, I would still chide them for jumping to false conclusions - as a result of second-hand analysis.

Keen & determined members would have found clarity by seeking out our party's official international trade critic: Don Davies. In the previously mentioned slew of 2012 press reports, it was Davies who was ever-present...serving as "point man" in the previously mentioned re-branding effort. While he played "the dangerous game" (discussed in a later article) with our hostile & opposition-aligned press...he was always forthright in his official role in parliament.

On June 4, 2012...it went largely un-noticed that Don Davies had assumed his critic's role and quietly initiated this "re-branding" campaign. In a speech ostensibly about Bill C-23 (an act to implement the free trade agreement between Canada and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan), Davies revealed - in detail - the guiding principles & concerns of NDP trade policy (under our new leader, Thomas Mulcair):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak on behalf of the official opposition New Democrats about Bill C-23, an act to implement the free trade agreement between Canada and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The bill affords me my first opportunity to speak in this House, not only on this bill in specific terms, but also on what I think are the principles that should guide Canada's trade policy in general.

Davies began by affirming that the NDP was a "pro-trade" party, but he made clear that our enemies would not define that term. Indeed, he reminded all of the contrast between our party...and the rest:
New Democrats are a pro-trade party. We understand deeply that Canada is a trading nation, and always has been. Our economic system depends, in substantial measure, upon selling goods, commodities and services to the world. We are in the enviable position of having a wealth of resources that the world wants to buy. In exchange, Canada also benefits from the importation of many products and services from around the world. These items supplement Canada's natural bounty and provide a richness and diversity that enhance the quality of living for all Canadians.

However, we approach pro-trade policy somewhat differently from what the Conservatives and, indeed, the Liberals have traditionally done. In our view, trade policy should respect and incorporate thoughtful and established values, trade agreements must meet concrete objectives...

Davies outlined core principles that would guide the NDP leadership in their examination of trade agreements. NDP members will immediately recognize the following as traditional and long-established NDP criteria. As such, Davies merely re-affirmed that which had long been derided by our corrupt rivals and their "messengers" in the partisan press.
Trade deals must result in increased trade that benefits Canada's export sectors. Disturbingly, data is showing that in a number of cases, Canadian trade deals have resulted in imports exceeding exports, which adds to our trade deficit, costs us jobs and impairs our economic growth.

Trade deals must be reciprocal. Good trade deals allow fair access by Canadian enterprises to international markets that seek access to our own. Trade deals must create good jobs in Canada. It is vitally important that Canada encourage value-added production and enhance the value of our exports. Shipping raw products out of Canada is short-sighted and shortchanges Canadians. Good deals must raise the economic and social conditions in each jurisdiction. Respect for human rights and a concerted focus to raise the living and employment conditions for the people of the trading nations must be major priorities.

Trade deals must respect and improve environmental standards. In an interdependent world, that is increasingly aware of our need to sustain development, ensuring that commerce is done sustainably is critical.

Finally, trade deals must not damage our democracy by diminishing the ability of governments at all levels to make decisions in the best interests of our citizens.

All these issues must be factored in and create a balanced approach to trade.

Of course, platitudes are for Liberals. NDP members require concrete application. To this end, Davies used the agreement with Jordan to preview the NDP's activist use of trade agreements - in pursuit of concrete social-democratic reform:
As the dominant economy in this relationship, Canada is in a strong position to ensure enforcement of and compliance with labour and environmental commitments. New Democrats will hold the government to account to make sure it does this. When we form the government, we will actively engage with all of our trading partners to ensure compliance with our agreements.

This agreement addresses labour standards squarely, and in particular the rights of migrant workers, which were not included in the trade deal the United States made with Jordan 10 years ago. These include elevated standards of work hours, wage protection and stronger penalties against human trafficking. They also include extending domestic employment standards to migrant workers and affording them the ability to join unions if they so wish. At committee, the ILO testified that there is encouraging progress on labour issues in Jordan. New Democrats supported this legislation at second reading, and at that time we stated in the House that we would consider further support if the labour situation continued to improve in Jordan. In important ways, it has.

The environmental agreement, while far from perfect, contains a benchmark commitment to enforce environmental standards. In addition, this free trade agreement contains no investor-state provision, which we generally oppose. There are no invasive chapters on public procurement or intellectual property in this deal, which are serious criticisms of other trade deals including in CETA presently being negotiated.

With no agreement, trade with Jordan will still occur given the low tariffs. It is therefore arguably better to sign an agreement that engages Jordan in a positive, constructive manner with significant commitments than to have none at all. Sometimes it is better to have good progress, if not perfect progress.

Most revealing to New Democrats - and probably frightening to our rivals - would be Davies unqualified threat to "terminate" a trade agreement. Not only was the warning to complacent partner-nations explicit...Davies also struck at the cult-like ideology of our political rivals. He rejected the childish notion that "the market will take care of everything" and defined the NDP as a tough & vigilant enforcer of inclusive economic growth:
Signing an agreement is not an end in itself, and it is not the end of the process either. As with any good contract and ongoing relationship, care must be taken to monitor and enforce the reciprocal commitments if the deal is truly to have integrity and meet its stated objectives. I sincerely hope that the present government will take this care.

If these results do not occur, we can withdraw from this agreement. This agreement provides that either party can give six months' notice at any time and withdraw. This is something that is not mentioned enough. We cannot just sign a deal and assume that the market will take care of everything or that others will monitor the agreement for us. We cannot assume that the promised benefits of trade agreements will happen organically and magically without monitoring or working hard. If, as the time goes on, we determine that the benefits are not happening, we should not hesitate to use the termination clause that is present in all trade agreements to get out of this deal, if required. Promises must not just be made; they must be kept.

As of this new year (2013), a new & authoritative document has appeared on the official NDP website. Named "Policy Book", this 35-page document summarizes all aspects of NDP policy. I would not recommend it as a primary source, as its content maybe modified in the coming months. But members who still harbour doubt should compare section 4.5 (Fair Trade - page 18) to Davies' substantive speech. There is clearly a consistency in content & purpose:
4.5 - Fair trade

New Democrats believe in:

(a) Defending Canadians’ economic interests,
particularly in terms of foreign investment and
takeovers.

(b) Promoting trade agreements that include
enforceable standards for human, workers’ and
women’s rights and environmental sustainability,
and that protect public services.

(c) Subjecting all proposed international trade agreements
and international treaties to a Parliamentary
vote and ratification through the legislative process.

(d) Demanding more accountability and transparency
in international trade organizations, such as the
World Trade Organization (WTO).

(e) Renegotiating the North American Free Trade
Agreement (NAFTA) to protect Canadian
sovereignty, especially in investment and
energy security.
(f) Regulating the flow of international capital and
reducing financial speculation. 

Of course, none of this substance & nuance was conveyed by partisan reporters. They would rather envision an NDP that bows in submission to their Liberal dogma. So why would the NDP engage these partisans? In the next article, we will explore the motivations & consequences of the NDP's apparent "re-branding" strategy.

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