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People's Trade

Imagining a Fair Trade Future
Unifor’s People’s Trade Agenda

Unifor has undertaken an ambitious campaign to re-imagine global trade in the 21s century. The union is hosting a series of town halls across the country to open a dialogue on what a People’s Trade agenda would look like.

Find a People’s Trade Agenda town hall event near you:

Hamilton – April 20
Saskatoon – May 8
Kelowna – May 12 (For Unifor Media Members)
Moncton – May 31
Windsor – June 27
Oshawa - September 6

Trade is an age-old economic activity. Trade between people, communities, and nations has bolstered our collective development. Workers benefit from trade, so long as it improves our standard of living.

Over the past generation, “trade” has become inextricably linked with so-called “free trade agreements” – a set of specific rules and guidelines governing trade between nations. Unfortunately, “free trade” rules not only aim to move goods and services across borders more cheaply – they have been designed to restrict the ability of governments and citizens to set local policy and manage their own economic affairs even when these are in the best interest of citizens and the planet.

“Free trade agreements” have become so entrenched in our economic policy that seeking to negotiate more of them has become second-nature to politicians. Successful trade policy is often measured by how many “free trade agreements” we have signed.  Yet few governments, including Canada’s, reflect on whether or not these agreements have achieved the desired outcomes of trade: higher living and work standards, greater equality, and ensuring the health and well-being of all people.  That’s because it’s often not clear what, in fact, are the desired outcomes of trade, beyond market access for exporters and expanded protections for investors. There are countless examples of how one-sided, pro-business rules of trade have undermined workers’ rights, environmental standards, indigenous peoples, and local democracy. This has fueled a public outcry over trade and globalization throughout the world.

What is a People’s Trade Agenda?

Trade agreements, we know, are complex instruments, riddled with thousands of pages of legal text that are inaccessible to most people. Even experts struggle to disentangle the words, phrases, and concepts in these treaties.  But despite the complicated jargon, the basic intent of modern free trade deals is primarily to satisfy the interests of businesses, exporters, and private investors. Poverty eradication, environmental sustainability, social and economic equality, the creation of good, stable jobs, and strengthening our local democracy are mostly an afterthought.

This has to change.

Canadians deserve to have a voice in the development of trade policy. We need to set the ground rules for what trade ought to achieve. That’s a conversation that goes beyond fiddling with the legal text of a trade deal. It means identifying a new set of terms and principles to guide our trade program. The Trudeau government has talked about a “Progressive Trade Agenda”, but so far that program lacks coherence. Canada needs a clearly-defined social mandate that guides its trade policy. And we intend to craft it.

Here’s how we’ll do it

Over the course of 2018, Unifor will be organizing a series of open meetings in communities all across Canada. In these meetings participants will be talking about trade through their own lived-experience. They’ll brainstorm ideas on how to craft a more humane, fair, and development-focused trade framework and how, collectively, we can achieve it.

These “town-hall”-style meetings aren’t union meetings. They’ll be hosted by Unifor local unions (sometimes co-hosted with community partners), but they are intended to be community gatherings, bringing together as broad a range of civil society as possible. Workers and community organizers, those active on environmental issues, academics and researchers, farmers, students, representatives of indigenous communities, equity rights advocates, small business owners, local politicians, our neighbours and our friends: all are invited to attend and explore the possibilities for a better trade policy. 

At these town halls, participants will be given a basic overview of trade and trade policy in Canada. Most importantly, they’ll be provided space to engage in a meaningful discussion with others who believe a progressive trade agenda is possible.

The ideas generated at these gatherings will ultimately form a summary report that will include recommendations – a framework for a fair trade mandate developed by citizens. This framework will then be brought to federal politicians and candidates in the lead-up to the important 2019 federal election. Our hope is to build a constructive and respectful political dialogue on trade during the next election – one that sets us down the path of building a fair trade future. 

We hope you’ll join us as we build this People’s Trade Agenda, together.

To host a community gathering, contact:

Josh Coles

Unifor Director of Political Action and Member Mobilization