Canadian groups call for NAFTA renegotiation

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by Ben Lilliston • 10/3/08 • Earlier this week, ten Canadian civil society groups called on political candidates running in Canada’s October 14 election to “stop ducking Obama’s NAFTA challenge.” Specifically, the groups asked for candidates to respond to U.S. Senator Barack Obama’s pledge to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) if elected President.

Think Forward is a blog written by staff of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy covering sustainability as it intersects with food, rural development, international trade, the environment and public health. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy promotes resilient family farms, rural communities and ecosystems around the world through research and education, science and technology, and advocacy.

The Canadian groups zeroed in on a number of key provisions of NAFTA that need renegotiation, including the energy chapter’s “proportionality clause,” which compels Canada to export oil and natural gas at a set rate to the U.S., even if it results in domestic shortages. It is NAFTA’s proportionality clause that is partially driving the controversial and energy-intensive development of oil tar sands in Alberta. IATP’s newsletter, Tar Sands Oil Review, is monitoring the issue.

The Canadian groups also called for the renegotiation of NAFTA’s investment chapter (also known as Chapter 11), which grants corporations the right to sue governments in all three countries (through unelected and secret trade tribunals) to challenge regulations they disagree with. There have been over 50 such Chapter 11 cases filed under NAFTA.

Pressure appears to be building in all three countries to renegotiate NAFTA. In March, civil society networks in Mexico, the U.S. and Canada issued a similar call for the renegotiation of NAFTA at a Washington, D.C. conference co-organized by IATP. The March statement covered ten specific areas of NAFTA to be renegotiated. IATP contributed to the agriculture section, which calls for the protection of policies that support family farmers, sustainable agriculture and inventory management to stabilize prices. At the conference, legislators from all three countries also announced the formation of a tri-national “Task Force on Renegotiating NAFTA.”

In June, the Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment (TRADE) Act was introduced in Congress, which requires an honest, full-cost assessment of all existing trade agreements, including NAFTA, using a series of economic, environmental and social indicators. If the trade deal failed to adequately meet these indicators, it could be reopened for negotiation. The TRADE Act has had strong initial support and will likely be re-introduced next year.

A recent U.S. poll reported that 56 percent of Americans want to renegotiate NAFTA. Nearly 15 years after it came into effect, the fight over NAFTA appears to be far from over.