President Donald Trump (right) and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shake hands during a joint press conference, Monday, Feb. 13, 2017, in the East Room of the White House. Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

Editorial: A lost opportunity with NAFTA

  • January 13, 2018
One failing of the ongoing negotiations to amend the North American Free Trade Agreement is that leaders are fixated on wealth, not poverty.

When the talks re-open in Montreal on Jan. 23, negotiators from Canada, the United States and Mexico will arrive at the table intent on making each of their countries richer. That is the nature of the political beast. Leaders may strike a pose of international collaboration but, at heart, talks like these are mostly fuelled by so-called national self interest.

This selfishness is a shame because NAFTA represents a rare opportunity to declare emphatically a North American commitment to eradicate social injustice and economic inequity, and to state fundamentally that the pursuit of the common good is not defined by borders. In a just world, this agreement would be about launching a continental movement based on fair trade that can lift people from poverty, open doors to social justice and provide equal access to the vast comforts of North America.

But there is no indication any of that will happen.

Instead, a protectionist, wall-building U.S. president is threatening to kill the deal unless he gets his way. And a Canadian prime minister with his own social agenda is feeling some pressure, should the U.S. pull out, to cut Mexico loose and make the best deal he can with the Americans. Neither scenario is palatable.

A Christian model for economic co-operation was laid out by Pope Francis in his 2013 apostolic exhortation Joy of the Gospel. The papal document urges leaders to use Gospel teachings to confront the global scourges of poverty, exclusion and inequality. With respect to international economic matters, the Pope was blunt: “The dignity of each human person and the pursuit of the common good are concerns which ought to shape all economic policies.”

Obviously, Francis didn’t have NAFTA in mind, but his words are apropos to the ongoing talks and, if justice was paramount, would guide leaders as they pursue a deal. No one is exempt from concern for the weak and from advocating for social justice, he wrote. All Christians are obligated to hear the cry of the poor and to enable them to become full members of society.

In that light, a just agreement for a free-trade zone would be less about partisan politics and much more about creating practical solutions to the structural causes of poverty, inequity and injustice so widespread in Mexico and not uncommon in the U.S. and Canada. It would be about abandoning me-first attitudes and sincerely pledging to use trade to advance the common good of all people, particularly those who are excluded and suffering.

But none of that has been happening. NAFTA presents a rare opportunity that, sadly, is shaping up to be an opportunity lost.

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