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CUPE welcomes improvements to the new NAFTA, but flaws remain

US lawmakers have successfully added important reforms to the new NAFTA, but many flaws remain in the renegotiated trade and investment agreement. The agreement falls short of the Liberal government’s own goals for a progressive deal on the environment and Indigenous rights, fails to protect public services, and contains worrying language on regulatory cooperation.

“We’re happy to see some improvements, but let’s be clear: there’s still work to do,” said CUPE National President Mark Hancock. “Canadians deserve a full and transparent process of public consultations before this deal gets ratified.”

CUPE applauds the changes to the intellectual property (IP) chapter that will avoid projected cost increases to medicines. Under the initial text, Canada would have been required to extend data protection periods on biologic medicines from the current 8 years to 10 years. Longer data protection periods extend the time it takes for cheaper generic versions of biologics to be available. The IP chapter now also allows for domestic regulation of evergreening, a practice where drug companies make small and medically inconsequential changes to medicines in order to obtain a new patent. This practice inflates drug prices at no benefit to patients.

Labour rights have also been strengthened through a new rapid-response mechanism between Canada and Mexico. If specific workplaces are suspected of violating freedom of association or collective bargaining rights, an independent panel of labour experts can investigate. If violations are confirmed, penalties can be imposed on exports from that workplace. The United States has a similar mechanism with Mexico, but it does not apply between Canada and the United States.

We are also encouraged that the burden of proof for labour and environmental violations has shifted – all violations will now be assumed to impact trade and investment unless proven otherwise.

While the environment chapter now recognizes the obligations that nations may have from some international environmental treaties, it is very regrettable that the Paris Agreement is not one of the recognized treaties. “It is profoundly disappointing that the new NAFTA still ignores the threat of climate change and limits government response to deal with the climate crisis,” said CUPE National Secretary-Treasurer Charles Fleury.

CUPE is calling for a full and transparent public process of consultations prior to the federal government ratifying the new deal, which should be informed by an independent analysis of the deal’s impact on our economy and legislative and regulatory frameworks.

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