Canada signs new NAFTA deal with U.S., Mexico

Revised deal met with applause and anger from Canadian industry associations

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Mexico President Enrique Pena Neto, left, as Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, looks on after participating in the USMCA signing ceremony, Friday, Nov. 30, 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. A deal on amending the new North American free trade agreement appears close following a busy weekend, with hopes Canada, Mexico and the United States will approve a rewritten deal in the next 24 hours. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Canada joined the United States and Mexico in heralding a new era of North American prosperity on Tuesday as they formally agreed to changes to the new continental free trade deal.

The amended deal comes after years of intense negotiations marked by bickering, threats and frustration.

“This has been a long, arduous and at times fraught negotiation,” said Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who was in Mexico City for the elaborate signing ceremony.

U.S. trade czar Robert Lighthizer and Mexican undersecretary for North America Jesus Seade signed the document beside her.

“All of us together have finally accomplished what we set out to do at the very outset: a win-win-win agreement which will provide stability for workers in all three of our countries for many years to come,” Freeland said.

The three countries originally signed a renegotiated North American free trade pact a year ago, but U.S. ratification stalled as Democrats in Congress and their organized labour allies bickered with Mexico over labour rights, as well as the deal’s treatment of steel and aluminum.

Democrats were upset with provisions around intellectual-property rules on pharmaceuticals and settling disputes, all of which led to fresh negotiations to amend the deal by tightening up some areas of the proposed agreement and loosening others.

The revised deal was immediately met with both applause and anger from various Canadian industry associations and others, with some blasting the new deal as harmful to Canada and others welcoming the changes and the agreement’s imminent ratification by all three countries.

Among those voicing tacit approval for the new deal were usual suspects like the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Business Council of Ottawa, but also Canada’s largest union, Unifor, and the Council of Canadians advocacy group, which has long criticized the previous NAFTA.

“The new (deal), while far from perfect, provides a road map to implement necessary changes in trade policy to benefit workers,” Unifor national president Jerry Dias said in a statement. ”The improvements announced today are a helpful boost in achieving those objectives.”

While also describing the new agreement as flawed, Sujata Dey, trade campaigner for the Council of Canadians, said: ”The changes to this deal show that while we are up against unprecedented corporate power, we are able to make a difference when we work together.”

However, the aluminum and brand-name pharmaceutical sectors were particularly upset with the revisions, which saw Mexico agree to a tighter definition on what constitutes North American steel but not aluminum and a loosening of intellectual-property rules on medication.

READ MORE: Feds face calls to protect aluminum industry as new NAFTA deal appears close

“This is disappointing news for Canada’s innovative pharmaceutical industry, which is already facing significant challenges launching new medicines and attracting new investment in Canada,” said Innovative Medicines Canada president Pamela Fralick said in a statement.

“Today’s announcement sends the wrong signal to the thousands of researchers and scientists across the country who have dedicated their lives to finding new cures and innovative treatments to help Canadians live longer, healthier lives.”

NDP trade critic Daniel Blaikie said his party was eager to see more details on the amendments before making any firm decisions on whether to support the deal, including the provisions on aluminum and intellectual-property rules for pharmaceuticals.

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet, however, warned that his party will not support the deal if Canada’s aluminum industry is not protected, describing the industry in French as “not only important in Quebec, it is emblematic of Quebec.”

Freeland, Lighthizer and Seade went out of their way to defend the deal in separate addresses prior to signing the agreement, with the Canadian deputy minister insisting the federal Liberal government “worked hard to defend the interests and values of Canadians.”

Seade made a particularly lengthy defence of the deal, which will see the U.S. monitor Mexican labour reforms that include increasing wages for the country’s automotive workers and more protections from violence.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in Washington on Tuesday morning that congressional Democrats were supportive of the changes, which were also approved by their AFL-CIO trade federation allies, paving the way for implementing legislation to finally be tabled in Congress.

“This is a day we’ve all been working to and working for,” Pelosi said.

READ MORE: U.S. can’t show harm from Canadian softwood industry, NAFTA panel says

The Democrats announced support for the deal the same day they introduced articles of impeachment against U.S. President Donald Trump.

It wasn’t immediately clear when the deal will be tabled, though Pelosi did say Democrats were hoping to get moving before the end of the congressional session on Dec. 20.

Mexico ratified the original deal in June while the Canadian government said it was waiting to ratify the agreement at the same time as the U.S.

There had been concerns the agreement, which aims to update the NAFTA, would not be approved before Congress disperses until 2020 and its focus shifts to next fall’s presidential election.

U.S. President Donald Trump, labour unions and many Democratic lawmakers branded NAFTA 1.0 a job-killer for America because it encouraged factories to move south of the border, capitalize on low-wage Mexican workers and ship products back to the U.S. duty-free.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Parksville Royals second at Victoria baseball tournament

Seniors player showcase talents in front of scouts

RCMP: Trio arrested, firearms seized after report of shots fired in rural Qualicum Beach

Police say search also found evidence of large-scale drug operation

Dougal the blind raven enjoys role as ambassador at North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre

Bird helps animal care technicians teach visitors about his species

UPDATE: Qualicum Beach man, 51, dies in kayaking incident

No foul play suspected; body was found floating near Lasqueti Island

B.C. reports 96 new COVID-19 cases, one hospital outbreak

61 people in hospital as summer ends with election

Attorney General of Canada defends Kelowna Mountie involved in rough arrest

Tyler Russell filed a lawsuit against Const. Siggy Pietrzak in June of this year

B.C. could be without a new leader for multiple weeks after Election Day: officials

More than 20K mail-in voting packages were requested within a day of B.C. election being called

Refresh of Liberal government’s agenda comes amid new looming COVID-19 crisis

Lockdowns saw fed spending soar to historic levels in effort to offset pandemic’s blow to Canadians’ livelihoods

BC Liberals must change gears from election cynicism, focus on the issues: UBC professors

COVID-19 response and recovery is likely to dominate platforms

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C.’s top doctor says she’s received abuse, death threats during COVID-19 response

Henry has become a national figure during her time leading B.C.’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Earthquake off coast of Washington recorded at 4.1 magnitude

The quake was recorded at a depth of 10 kilometres

‘Unprecedented’ coalition demands end to B.C. salmon farms

First Nations, commercial fishermen among group calling for action on Cohen recommendations

Most Read