Delegates Commit to Challenge Harper's Free Trade Agenda

April 18, 2012, 1:40 PM EST

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CAW Council delegates unanimously endorsed a call to step up efforts in coming months to oppose a new generation of free trade deals being negotiated by the Harper government that includes deals with the European Union and Japan.

The Harper government has placed a heavy emphasis on signing trade agreements as a centerpiece of its economic policy and this is cause for concern, said CAW President Ken Lewenza.

"Free trade is not about trade," Lewenza said. "Free trade, in the eyes of Stephen Harper, is about allowing multi-national corporations to move global capital from one country to the other, unimpeded by government."

Since coming to office in 2006, the Harper government has signed deals with the European Free Trade Association (that includes Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Lichtenstein), Peru, Jordan, Panama, Honduras and Colombia. There are over a dozen more deals in active negotiation.

Canada's experience with free trade has not been a favourable one, said Angelo DiCaro, CAW national representative who delivered a presentation on the topic to delegates. 

Since the signing of the North America Free Trade Agreement in 1994, Canada has seen a dramatic rise in its manufacturing trade deficit (a $12 billion surplus in 1996 has turned into a $90 billion deficit in 2011), hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs have been eliminated, real wages have stagnated and governments are hamstrung to introduce new, jobs-creating policies for fear of breaching trade rules and reprisal.

Lewenza said the Conservative government's motivation to sign these deals represents a situation where ideology trumps the greater good.

CAW Local 199 President Wayne Gates urged delegates to participate in a campaign targeting municipal governments, urging them to call for an exemption from the EU-Canada CETA. The proposed CETA includes never before seen language that would empower private corporations to challenge public policy across all levels of government.

"This is a bad news trade deal for cities and for workers and their families," Gates said. "CETA is a first glimpse into a new breed of free trade deals that could radically re-shape Canada."

Gates, also a Niagara Falls, Ontario city councillor helped pass a motion on April 11 requesting a permanent exemption from Niagara Falls from the CETA. CAW members in Mississauga, Ontario and New Westminster, BC have also led efforts to pass similar motions in their communities.

For more information on the CETA campaign, visit:

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