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Legislators renew call for a "fair" NAFTA

VANCOUVER - Canadian businesses and the federal government may be urging Americans to avoid trade protectionism, but a group of legislators is trying to shift the debate to the need for greater protection for workers and the environment in North American trade.

The 'Buy American' provisions of some American economic stimulus legislation -- and planned reciprocating restrictions by Canadian municipalities -- has emphasized the limitations on the trade freedoms guaranteed by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

But federal NDP trade critic Peter Julian argues that not only is 'Buy American' completely legal under NAFTA, local procurement policies are good for the environment as well as local economies.

“The real question is, why isn't Canada putting into place similar procurement policies?” he said.

Julian, MP for Burnaby-New Westminster, is the Canadian representative on the Task Force for Renegotiating NAFTA. The group of North American legislators formed last March, shortly after American presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton caused a furor by suggesting the U.S. should abandon the agreement unless it was renegotiated.

Last week, six members of the Task Force sent a joint letter to the leaders of the three countries (a copy of which was forwarded to The Tyee) asking them to “consider a new, people-centered fair trade model.”

According to Julian, it's an effort to “restart the debate” about re-opening NAFTA.

In Canada, the NDP are the only federal party supporting the plan, although Julian said there has been “some interest” from individual Liberal and Bloc Québecois MPs.

In Mexico, there is support from the opposition party Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD). In the U.S., some Democratic representatives are working on the campaign.

While Julian still considers President Obama to be a supporter of renegotiation, he admits that there have been “a few bumps in the road,” noting in particular that Obama's trade advisor, Ron Kirk, has been pro-free trade.

The “fair trade” agreement envisioned by Julian would involve penalties for companies who moved operations to cheaper labour markets, and the removal of NAFTA's Chapter 11 provisions. Chapter 11 provides a process for companies to sue governments for certain types of policy decisions that adversely affect that company's profits.

The Task Force for Renegotiating NAFTA plans to organize a tri-national meeting this summer to parallel the annual meeting of the three countries' leaders.

Amelia Bellamy-Royds reports for The Tyee.

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