Jim Stanford’s recent report for the IRPP asks an important and provocative question: Is implementing more free trade and investment deals the right way to address Canada’s trade woes, or has this policy focus actually been part of the problem? »

On the one hand, Stanford’s conclusions regarding the futility of trade deals — where economic benefits are concerned — make sense. On the other hand, he does not discuss how the increased trade and travel of goods and people delivering services affects the world’s climate change mitigation and GHG reduction efforts. (As a recent CBC article reports, Canada’s GHG emissions are now 20 percent higher than they were when we first committed to reducing them in the 1990s.)

For that reason, I would broaden the scope of the policy question to read something like this:  “Is engaging in more free trade and global investment over longer distances the right way to address the world’s sustainable development woes, or has a policy focus on trade to the exclusion of all else actually been part of the problem? »

This question is worth exploring because it would go a long way toward informing the choices and trade- offs that we must make if we are to avoid unwittingly exacerbating the social and environmental risks that humanity and our planet face.

The massive amounts of time and resources that traditionally have been devoted to the dogged pursuit of trade deal development is perplexing, given the emerging evidence that these efforts are not bringing the economic benefits they were designed to bring. As of December 2015, the world has acknowledged and committed to take the steps necessary to reduce GHG emissions to address climate change. Given this development, why not spend the time and resources that have historically been devoted to international trade  on figuring out the economic, social and environmental benefits and ways to achieve a sustainable balance between trade and producing and buying local?

Of course, that would mean that the tables where trade opportunities and deals are discussed would not be occupied exclusively by trade experts, lawyers and big business representatives. Given the broader impacts of trade arrangements on societies around the world, though, can democratically elected governments really negotiate in good faith when there are huge social and environmental policy questions that remain unaddressed?

Parliament’s Standing Committee on International Trade is currently examining whether the Trans-Pacific Partnership is in Canada’s best interests. It is also finalizing its review of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. The committee has invited comments from everyday Canadians on the TPP. You can get more information on how to submit a brief here. Briefs submitted to the committee are part of the public record. The deadline for submissions is June 30.


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Kathleen O'Connor was a federal public servant for 28 years prior to her retirement a little over one year ago. Since her retirement, she has been contributing to online communities and dialogues on such topics as international trade, climate change and electoral reform.

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