OTTAWA – Economist Joseph Stiglitz says he has told his “friend,” International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, that Canada should reject the Trans-Pacific Partnership because it’s a badly flawed trade deal.
The controversial but not-yet-ratified trade agreement could tie the hands of the Trudeau Liberals on two key parts of its agenda — fighting climate change and repairing relations with aboriginal people, the Nobel-winning professor warned Friday.
Stiglitz said he relayed some of his concerns to Freeland personally in January, when the two were attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
He would have elaborated further in another meeting in Ottawa — where he spoke Friday — had Freeland been in town to hold one, he added.
Canada’s trade department did have someone on hand at the University of Ottawa to hear the Columbia University professor excoriate the Pacific Rim trade agreement that includes the United States and Japan, and covers 40 per cent of the world economy.
Stiglitz said the deal benefits big business at the expense of working people, driving down the bargaining power of workers, including their wages.
“Chrystia Freeland is an old friend. So I try to explain some of these ideas to her,” he told The Canadian Press in an interview.
He said he and Freeland were “were in several meetings” together in Davos, and he believes he got his message across.
“I think they’re genuinely concerned,” Stiglitz said of the Liberal government. “It’s obviously a very sensitive issue. I think that they don’t want to commit themselves. But they’re saying, they’re open, they’re listening.”
Freeland’s spokesman Alex Lawrence said the government is keeping an open mind about the deal and is following through on its promise to consult widely with Canadians.
“Many Canadians still have not made up their minds and many more still have questions,” Lawrence said.
The House of Commons trade committee is studying the TPP — a process that Freeland has said could take up to nine months.
Lawrence said the committee would travel across the country as part of its outreach to Canadians.
After that, Freeland has promised that only a vote in Parliament would ratify the deal, which was negotiated under the former Conservative government.
Canada signed the sweeping, 12-country treaty in February, something Freeland called a “technical step” that doesn’t mean ratification.
Stiglitz said he told Freeland to “take your time, see what happens.”
Both Democrat and Republican U.S. presidential hopefuls have come out in opposition to the TPP because there’s been a groundswell of public opposition to the deal, he added.
He suggested that lessens the need for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to feel pressured by U.S. President Barack Obama to ratify the TPP. During his first meeting with Trudeau in the Philippines last fall, Obama spoke strongly about the need for countries to swiftly ratify the TPP.
Stiglitz said he’s sure Trudeau might be feeling some pressure from Obama, who rolled out the red carpet for the Canadian prime minister last month during a glitzy visit to the White House.
“But they have to remember, he’s a lame duck … and Trudeau’s going to be there for a long time,” said Stiglitz. “Trudeau’s going to have to work with people who have said … ‘We’re against it.'”
In his speech to anti-TPP forum known as the Trade Justice Network, Stiglitz said the deal would cost Canada jobs and weaken the government’s ability to make regulations, including those meant to protect the environment. That’s because the agreement’s investor-state dispute settlement mechanism allows companies to sue governments over any regulations that reduce their profits.
“For your government, this is really absurd because your government is making a big deal about climate change,” he said, adding that the TPP “will tie their hands in dealing with climate change.”
Stiglitz said the TPP could curtail the Trudeau government’s plan to reset relations with aboriginal people. He cited the fact that South Africa has had to withdraw from investor dispute agreements that have limited its ability to address the legacy of apartheid.
“You have a First Nations problem. And if you’re going to say, ‘We’re going to try new things to try to alleviate it,’ you can’t do it anymore, if it’s in the form of a regulation,” Stiglitz said.
“You’ll be sued.”
Stiglitz also cited minimum wage laws, affirmative action programs and environmental impact assessments as areas where Canada and other TPP countries could also face similar problems.