U.S., Canada labor groups press NAFTA reform

Wed Feb 18, 2009 10:53pm EST
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By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. and Canadian labor unions called for changes in agriculture, energy, investment and other provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement on the eve of a meeting on Thursday between U.S. President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

"We need to address the worsening economic crisis in a coordinated manner, reopen and fix the flaws with the North American Free Trade Agreement and move on a range of complementary policies dealing with energy, climate change and green jobs, industrial policy, migration and development," the AFL-CIO labor federation and the Canadian Labour Congress said in a joint letter to the two leaders.

Obama, who is making his first foreign trip as president to Canada, promised last year to "fix" NAFTA by adding enforceable labor and environmental provisions to the core of the pact and by changing an investment measure that critics say gives business too much power to challenge government regulations.

Three-way trade between the United States, Mexico and Canada has tripled to nearly $1 trillion since NAFTA went into force in 1994, and together Canada and Mexico buy more than one-third of U.S. exports.

But the agreement is often blamed for U.S. job losses, especially in big Midwestern manufacturing states.

NAFTA critics do not expect Obama to return from his a trip with a completed blueprint to renegotiate the pact.

But they do hope for action later this year after Obama has consulted with key members of Congress on goals for reshaping the 15-year-old trade deal.

"You can't campaign ... repeatedly about how you are going to fix NAFTA and otherwise reform U.S. trade and globalization policy and then not do it," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. "Everyone's going to be watching to see that he delivers on those promises."   Continued...