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June 9, 2009

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Municipalities want say in future trade talks

WHISTLER—Delegates to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) conference, a national meeting of municipal stakeholders that ended here yesterday, showed concern about the impact of trade deals on municipal governments and called for full consultation before any more trade talks are held.

A resolution on the issue, submitted by three B.C. municipalities and the Union of BC Municipalities, passed easily at the FCM’s annual conference.

Resolution B56 calls for “open public consultation before negotiating any internal or international trade and security agreement,” including municipal input through FCM. The resolution also commits the federation to further researching and monitoring of the effects of trade deals such as the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement, the Agreement on Internal Trade and a new Canada-EU free trade agreement on municipalities.

CUPE and its allies helped support the resolution, which highlights the threat trade deals pose to public services.

The federation’s focus on how trade deals might constrain local governments is timely, given the debate that followed. Much of the Saturday plenary was spent debating a controversial resolution on “Buy American” provisions in U.S. president Barack Obama’s infrastructure stimulus package.

Corporate lobby groups and the Harper government are fanning the flames of the anti-“Buy American” backlash, using it to force international trade rules onto provincial and municipal purchasing decisions. Bringing local procurement under NAFTA or the planned Canada-European Union trade deal will take away local control over how communities spend their money.

Delegates were divided on the issue, pointing out inconsistencies and contradictions in the emergency resolution. While there was clear support for local governments adopting “Buy Canadian” policies, many weren’t comfortable with the resolution’s combative approach.

The resolution, which narrowly passed in a 185-179 vote, calls for municipalities to retaliate against the U.S. provisions by directing their infrastructure spending to countries that don’t put trade restrictions on Canadian-made goods and materials.

The resolution gives the federal government four months to fix the problem – although the Conservative government’s 'solution' will simply create new problems for municipalities.

Anti-Buy American policies have been misleadingly framed as promoting “fair trade.” However, if communities are bound by free trade agreements, much of a local government’s ability to create policies that are best for its citizens will be sacrificed for what is best for big business.

CUPE will keep working with its allies in labour and local governments to highlight the real agenda behind the anti-Buy American backlash, connecting the dots with the FCM’s progressive commitments in resolution B56.

For more on the FCM conference see:
Trade high on agenda for FCM day one
Labour backs FCM push to elect more women

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