What these ‘trade’ agreements all have in common is that they have been ‘top-down’ deals, imposed by governments at the insistence of big business. They have all been about deregulation and investors’ rights. Their goal has been to create a ‘free’ market in which big business calls all the shots and governments either get out of the way entirely, or work only to cater to the needs of big business. These agreements were supposed to have improved the lot of Canadians, but after a generation of living with these agreements, Canadians are working harder than ever for less money—in real terms— than they were making before free trade.
Let’s be clear: the Council is not against trade. But we believe in fair trade, that is, trade that respects the rights of workers, that safeguards the environment, and that operates to enhance the public good, not sabotage it.
It has been a long, hard struggle against unfair trade agreements, but we have had some successes: we defeated the MAI; the FTAA seems like it is almost dead; and we drove the government to abandon the SPP, officially at least.
Unfortunately, the government and its business masters don’t give up that easily. They are married to the free trade agenda because it reinforces corporate power. At every turn, the Council and our allies manage to expose the shortcomings of new free trade agreements, but increasingly governments bypass citizens and even Parliament by negotiating new trade agreements behind closed doors, with little or no genuine public input.
Despite the challenges, the Council will not give up the fight for fair trade. We know that only through fair trade, with strong environmental and labour protections, will ordinary people around the world benefit.