"Canada's idea of a fair trade deal seems very different from President Trump's," observed The New York Times on Monday.
That's quite an understatement.
Canada's idea seems very different from what most Americans think of when they hear "free trade" or "free markets." As Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland explained yesterday, the country wants to "modernize" the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to include "progressive elements."
As it stands, the 23-year-old trade treaty between Canada, Mexico, and the United States—enacted to eliminate barriers to open economic exchange, such as steep—already comes with conditions that go beyond reducing trade barriers. NAFTA lays down rules regarding the three countries' labor standards, agricultural sanitation measures, agricultural production practices, intellectual property rights, and other trade-adjacent issues.
But as we head into NAFTA renegotiations this week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his administration want to expand the rules to include sections on gender issues, climate change, and indigenous rights. Freeland said such changes would move NAFTA from a "free trade" deal to a "fair trade" one.
While she didn't get into specifics, we can look to a recently renegotiated trade deal between Canada and Chile for guidance. The new pact includes a chapter "acknowledg[ing] the importance of applying gender perspective to economic and trade issues" and confirming "the intention of both parties to enforce their respective international agreements on gender from a rights perspective," according to a press release from the Canadian government.
It also "provides a framework for Canada and Chile to cooperate on issues related to trade and gender, including women's entrepreneurship and the development of gender-focused indicators," and it "commits both sides to the creation of a trade and gender committee that will oversee cooperation and share experiences in designing programs to encourage women's participation in national and international economies."
At best, it's a toothless public relations move that will only serve as a boon to bureaucrats.
At worst, it's a dealbreaker for Donald Trump, who has already threatened to withdraw the U.S. from NAFTA. And if that's the outcome, it's terrible news for the U.S. employment rate and for the economy overall. (Canada, meanwhile, has threatened to withdraw from NAFTA if Trump insists on scrapping a dispute-settlement section of the deal.)
Regardless of what ultimately comes to pass, Canada's plans highlight the creeping imposition of "social justice" goals into all facets of politics and economics. That's a troubling development, especially for supporters of small government, no matter how much one might supports those social aims more broadly.
For a full list of Canada's recently-released NAFTA wants—including some proposals that really are related to freeing trade, such as a measure to kill "Buy American" rules for construction projects and a call to ease work visa requirements—see the Toronto Sun.