CETA Exemption Request a Responsible Move by Toronto Council, CAW says

March 7, 2012, 11:55 AM EST

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CAW National President Ken Lewenza called the City of Toronto's decision to request a clear, permanent exemption from a proposed Canada-European free trade accord a responsible move in the face of major uncertainty. To date, it is unclear what is being negotiated in the deal and how it will impact municipalities.

"We are in the midst of signing the most far-reaching international trade deal in Canadian history that aims to bind our cities and towns, yet local councils have been left in the dark, with no voice at the negotiating table," Lewenza said. "The City of Toronto is exercising an intelligent amount of caution on a trade deal that could impact its ability to manage public spending in the best interest of Torontonians."

City Council supported the call for an exemption from the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) yesterday evening. The final resolution was an amended version of an earlier executive committee motion calling for, among other things, an accelerated dialogue with the province on the potential impacts of CETA on Toronto. The amendment to include a clear, permanent exemption was introduced by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam and received overwhelming support.

Leaked negotiating texts and various news reports indicate that CETA threatens to undercut the power of municipalities to create local jobs, establish "buy local" procurement policies, enact environmental protections and provide services and programs in a manner it sees fit.

Proponents of the CETA (including the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters) argue the deal will open up public purchasing markets for corporations in both Canada and Europe and will be a boon to the economy, an argument Lewenza said carries little weight.

"It's wrong to say this deal will open up markets to cross-border competition when there's next to nothing stopping competition from European firms right now," Lewenza said. "Unlike many of our trading partners, Canada has been reluctant to impose rules on public purchasing, often to our own detriment."

Lewenza said that the City of Toronto's 25 per cent Canadian-content policy for new light rail transit vehicles ensured that a portion of the record-breaking public purchase would help boost the local and national economy.

Toronto is the latest in a growing list of cities and towns across Canada to raise concerns over the CETA. A number of municipalities, including Oshawa, Hamilton and Ingersoll have also called for a clear, permanent exemption.

The Toronto resolution comes on the eve of a Federation of Canadian Municipalities Board of Directors meeting in Kitchener, Ontario (that runs from March 7-10). The FCM Board is expected to speak with Canada's lead CETA negotiator Steve Verheul at the meeting. 

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