Trudeau defends ‘progressive’ NAFTA agenda in U.S. speech

Trudeau explains why his government is pushing gender equality, indigenous rights, and labour protections in NAFTA talks

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with Lisa Ann Murkowski, Senator of the United States for Alaska, in Houston, Texas on Friday, March 10, 2017. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

(Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took his so-called progressive trade agenda to the United States on Tuesday, arguing that worker-friendly policies are key to saving public support for free trade.

He made that case in a speech as he arrived in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, and was presented an award for global citizenship by the Atlantic Council think tank.

Trudeau was introduced to the stage by Jordan’s Queen Rania who saluted his values and his work on Syrian refugees.

The prime minister noted that some critics at home have made fun of his government for pushing chapters on gender equality, indigenous rights, and labour protections as priorities for a new North American Free Trade Agreement under the argument that these things have nothing to do with trade.

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But he suggested this is no laughing matter for anyone who cares about preserving trade, in an era when populist currents have threatened to topple international agreements in Europe, Asia and North America.

“Some appear to have been confused by this,” Trudeau said

“It’s as though they expect us to do trade exactly the same way it was done by our parents, a quarter century ago.”

He said trade deals have been broadly positive for the majority of citizens but if they were perfect there would be no populist backlash like the ones currently occurring, especially in former manufacturing regions slammed by offshoring and automation.

“So we need to do a better job of ensuring the benefits of trade extend to the middle class and those working hard to join the middle class — not just the wealthiest few,” Trudeau said.

“In short, progressive trade is not a frill. In addition to being the right thing to do, it is a practical necessity, without which popular support for a growth agenda cannot be maintained.”

He noted as an example the push for labour rights. Sources say the Canadian government hopes the new NAFTA includes stronger union protections for Mexican workers, and an end to U.S. right-to-work laws that limit the potential to strike.

Sources say some of these ideas have swiftly been deemed non-starters by the other NAFTA parties.

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Trudeau delivered his speech on an aircraft carrier in the Hudson River where the black-tie Atlantic Council gala was held.

The speech included three themes: progressive trade, promoting human rights, and preserving the post-Second World War multilateral order. Some of those post-war institutions have come under attack recently by President Donald Trump, who argues that the U.S. pays too much into organizations like NATO and the United Nations and gets too little out of them.

It was a common theme of Trump’s speech to the General Assembly Tuesday — he toasted the merits of nationalism, and the idea that countries should be free exercise their own sovereignty.

But the prime minister said that on common challenges like climate change, income inequality, terrorism, civil war and mass migration, international institutions are indispensable.

“Alliances that have underpinned global security and prosperity since 1945 are being put to the test,” Trudeau said.

“Worldwide, the long-established international order is being tested. With Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and encroachment in Ukraine, we have seen the first major territorial seizure in Europe since the Second World War.

“This is not the time for retrenchment. It is a time for the Atlantic democracies to renew our commitment to universal standards of rights and liberty, enforced through a multilateral, rules-based order that has promoted peace and stability, and stood the test of time.”

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He said that includes NATO, and the UN, Norad, and the World Trade Organization, spanning both soft and hard power, which is why, he said, Canada is also significantly boosting its defence spending.

The Jordanian queen saluted the prime minister as he stepped up to the stage for his award.

“We live in an era of shrinking trust in government institutions,” Rania told the audience.

“But every once in a while a leader steps up onto the stage and reignites our faith… As Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary, Mr. Trudeau has led his country in renewing its deepest values: the openness, generosity, big-heartedness and broad-mindedness for which Canadians are admired across the globe.”

IMF president Christine Lagarde spoke after Trudeau to introduce the second award recipient, South Korean president Moon Jae-in. Lagarde joked that her friend, Trudeau, was a tough act to follow.

Trudeau and Korea’s leader met before the event and discussed the nuclear crisis to its north.


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Trudeau defends ‘progressive’ NAFTA agenda in U.S. speech

  1. It would be very interesting to see how Sheer and the other new leader of the opposition party would handle such a ‘Wacko'(urban dictionary: a conservative or a Republican) POTUS..Boxing is one of Trumps favorite sports, a thing he likes about Trudeau, so far, and Trudeau seems to be holding Trump on the ropes, every time Trump tries to rope a dope Trudeau. I wish Susan Delacourt would focus as much on the NDP and Conservative leaders shortcomings, as she do Trudeau’s, it’s almost an obsession of hers.

  2. CB you are a dreamer, and it’s Scheer, our prime minister to be. True plays sort of nice when it comes to J.r or simply ignores him.

    • Scheer? Howdy Doody’s twin brother?

      Cons have nothing to offer Canadians.

    • See, i told you, nobody knows who your guy is, i can’t even spell his name right, me bad. As i have said many times, this is ‘Scheer Bliss’ for the Grits in 2019. Scheer needs to get out of the HOCs, and stop whining about Trudeau everyday, and start to get to know the country before he can even get to know the people, and he better, get better, than 5 questions at a time. He is a Pussy, even the Sun News grave him that mantle the other day. The dippers have their own problem now, they are just about ready to elect another ‘Lamb Duck’ leader who needs to find a seat, and wears religious symbols, that will be interesting, i would never vote anyone head of state in this country, wearing religious symbols, and don’t think Canada will either, not just Quebec, or the dippers are going the way of the ‘Doe Doe Bird’.

      • I am not sure what a “lamb duck” is but it sounds a little exotic. Strange that you would be critical of the NDP leader when one is still not elected let alone having set out priorities for the party. Is it possible you are biased?

        • Typo era, ‘Lame Duck’

          • Not bias at all, i think he is a good guy, i just don’t want my PM in this country, wearing religious symbols, i am not a racist, i am a realist, but just not religious. Singh won’t be able to ask questions in the HOCs because he doesn’t have a seat, and he won’t be running for one anytime soon, and with the chorus of NDPers starting to wrap their arms around him, sounds like he has it in the bag. But if he is elected, he will still be ‘Lame Duck’.

    • Religion may have its place in the world, but not as a world leader, i hope Trudeau never uses any symbols of his own religion while he is government, we Canadians, had to put up with Harper and that god bless Canada shtick for 10 years.

      • Trudeau is much more tolerant of other beliefs than Harper was…but so are most other Canadians. I have no problem with Trudeau making religious comment as long as he does not priorize those beliefs ahead of those of others and there is nothing that indicates he will. We are a country made up of people whose principles are based on core beliefs.

        • Trudeau is like any other politician when it comes to getting votes, they all sometimes, just pander to religious groups. I truly don’t believe Trudeau even believes in faith, he is to educated to fall in that trap. Anyone who has to use some form of ideology in their lives in life in order to get through life, i personally don’t think they are stable enough people to run as a politicians, but some voters do, not all, more would agree, than disagree with me. As long as Ideology plays a role in our lives, we will move never ever move ahead progressively, society will always be in chains.