Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to the new NAFTA, the Canada-United States-Mexico agreement.
New Democrats recognize that the United States is Canada's most significant trading partner, and that the trade enabled by the agreement we are debating today is critical to Canada's economic success. Since the signing of the original free trade agreement, Canadian exports to the United States increased from $110 billion in 1993 to $349 billion in 2014. However, it is vital that the wealth generated through trade creates good jobs for working people in Canada and not simply for the interests of the wealthiest few.
When the initial agreement was signed back in November 2018, the NDP raised serious concerns about how the new trade deal addressed workers' rights and environmental regulations. Disappointingly, it was left to the Democrats in the U.S. rather than the Liberal government to stand up to the Trump administration and fight for these important changes.
I would like to use my time today to address three broad areas of concern. First, I will highlight two industries in my riding of Skeena—Bulkley Valley that I believe should have done better by the deal the government signed. Second, I will address the failure of this deal to engage indigenous people and to uphold their rights. Third, I will speak on our thoughts about the closed-door process by which our government negotiates deals such as this one.
While we have seen some sectors thrive and bring jobs and opportunities to northern British Columbia, we have also seen some industries struggle. We have heard a fair bit in the House already with regard to how this agreement would affect Canada's aluminum industry.
Canada's aluminum industry is the fifth largest in the world with an annual production of 2.9 million tonnes of primary aluminum. All of this is produced with a lower carbon footprint than other international producers.
The only aluminum smelter in western Canada is located in my riding in northern British Columbia. Rio Tinto's Kitimat smelter employs more than 1,000 workers in the town of Kitimat and contributes over $500 million annually to British Columbia's economy. As anyone who knows Kitimat will say, it is hard to overstate the importance of the smelter to this community. Indeed, it was the primary reason for the founding and construction of the community in the 1950s. However, for over a year, illegal steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by the U.S. left workers in Kitimat anxious about their community's future. While people in my riding were left wondering whether they would continue to have work, the government went ahead and signed the new NAFTA deal with those tariffs still in place.
The cost of the government's inaction on aluminum has been high. It has been estimated that across the country over 1,000 jobs have been lost. While the government is celebrating the lifting of these tariffs, I am still hearing concerns from aluminum workers in my riding.
The U.S. has made it clear that it would be willing to reinstate tariffs at any time, and all it would take is for President Trump to decide that there has been a surge in aluminum imports for these tariffs to return. Unfortunately, we do not have a definition in this agreement for what would constitute a surge in imports, which means continued uncertainty for workers in my riding regardless of whether this agreement is ratified.
I have also heard concern with how the amended agreement deals with rules of origin in the automotive sector, a topic we have heard about in the House over the past few days. While the agreement requires that 70% of steel and aluminum used in the manufacture of automobiles be from North America, no one seems to have bothered to ask what percentage the industry currently uses. Without that information, how can Canadians determine if this threshold will stimulate our industry or simply be a backstop?
Furthermore, the requirement that 70% of aluminum be North American is undermined again by the lack of a definition for what is meant by “North American”. For steel, the agreement sets out a specific definition, which reads, “for steel to be considered as originating under this Article, all steel manufacturing processes must occur in one or more of the Parties, except for metallurgical processes involving the refinement of steel additives....”
Such processes include the initial melting and mixing and continues through the coating stage, yet for aluminum, no such definition exists. This calls into question whether Mexican auto parts manufacturers could import cheap aluminum ingots from China without running afoul of the 70% rule. If this is indeed possible, it begs the question as to what the value is of having the 70% provision included in the agreement at all.
It appears that weaker aluminum provisions were the cost of getting this agreement signed, a concession that poses a real risk to the economy of the region I represent. Should this deal be ratified, workers in my riding deserve to hear more from the government about how it plans to protect aluminum workers and increase the market for Canadian aluminum.
A second area of concern I have heard about from people in my riding is softwood lumber. In Skeena—Bulkley Valley, as many as 3,500 people are employed in the forestry sector. However, for many communities, falling lumber prices have led to tough times. We have seen layoffs, curtailments and mill closures across northern B.C. At such a tough time, what we needed was a government in Ottawa on the side of forestry workers, but that has just not been the case.
While it is vital and positive that the NAFTA dispute mechanism has remained in the new trade agreement so that Canada can continue to argue for independent arbitration when the U.S. seeks to impose tariffs on Canadian softwood, we see very little in this agreement for the forestry sector. Since the previous softwood agreement expired in October 2015, we have desperately needed a new agreement to give forestry workers certainty that their product will still have access to the U.S. market. Instead, we have seen the Trump administration imposing softwood tariffs.
It would seem that during all those trips to Washington, getting a fair deal in the softwood lumber dispute was never on the table, but we will never know because of the opaque process by which this agreement has been negotiated. I would have thought that while we were opening up trade negotiations with the U.S., getting a stable resolution on softwood would be at the top of the agenda.
Another real concern with this new agreement is indigenous rights. In 2017, the Liberal government promised it would negotiate an entire chapter in this agreement to promote indigenous rights, but again we are left disappointed with what the government has delivered. It is so disheartening, as we work toward reconciliation with indigenous peoples across North America, that this agreement makes no mention of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We see again that the government has put the interests of big corporations ahead of indigenous peoples, who are seeking justice and respect on their own lands.
Finally, I would like to address the process by which this agreement was negotiated.
Throughout the negotiations, we heard from the Liberals that this was the best deal possible, but then the Democrats in the United States were able to deliver the important changes that the Liberals told Canadians were just not possible. Now we are hearing more concerns from some sectors, and again it is difficult for Canadians to have their voices heard. For people in northwest British Columbia, it feels like the government is just not listening.
People are rightly concerned that such an important agreement for Canada's economy would be adopted without a thorough examination. Why is it that Canadians know more about the negotiation strategy and objectives of our trading partner than they do of their own government?
Going forward, we need to see a real commitment to changing how Canada negotiates international trade agreements. Too often we see deals made behind closed doors, with everyday Canadians having little input. We need a commitment to increase transparency and a government that gives voice to working people most affected by trade agreements, not just to corporate lobbyists that stand to profit most from the outcome.
That is why the New Democrats support a thorough study of this deal along with the creation of a transparent trade process that holds our government more accountable and allows Parliament to play a more meaningful role than that of a simple rubber stamp. We owe it to Canadians.