As the federal Liberal government enthusiastically explores free trade talks with China, there is ample reason for Canadians to feel a sense of foreboding over the potentially disastrous impact on jobs, key industries, national security, human rights and the environment.
Since the Liberals were elected in 2015, concern has grown across the country over this government's behaviour on investment, trade and other issues regarding China.
The government's cavalier dismissal of such concerns and its failure to explain its puzzling decisions on important Canada-China issues prompted a national newspaper to ask, point-blank: "Why are the Liberals doing Beijing's bidding?"
Numerous developments have given rise to this unsettling question, including Liberal cash-for-access fundraisers with wealthy Chinese nationals and state officials. At one exclusive fundraiser Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rubbed elbows with Chinese billionaires, including a tycoon seeking Canadian government approval to open a bank in Canada. The government approved the bank a few weeks later.
National security experts have expressed concern at the government's approvals of takeovers of Canadian technology companies by Chinese firms co-owned by China's government. The Liberals' reviews of these deals have been secretive and failed to fully address potential security risks, experts have warned.
In February, the Liberals rejected the concerns of opposition parties as well as medicare and seniors advocacy groups by approving the $1-billion takeover of a Canadian retirement home chain by a secretive Chinese conglomerate whose chairman was recently arrested.
Recent media reports have revealed that an Ottawa-based think tank with ties to corporate Canada and the federal government has launched a campaign to persuade Canadians to embrace free trade with China, leading another national newspaper to conclude that "the Liberal government has become a pro-China propaganda machine."
Against this backdrop, a national public-opinion poll found a majority of Canadians are apprehensive about the economic, national security, human rights and environmental implications of free trade with China.
My union, the United Steelworkers, shares these concerns.
So-called free trade with China would inevitably require that Canada compromise our national interest and our values.
In our submission to the federal government's public consultations on a possible Canada-China free trade deal, we assert emphatically that it is not in Canada's interest to pursue such an agreement. We believe it would decimate key Canadian industries and threaten hundreds of thousands of middle-class jobs.
We know that China's state-driven development model is motivated as much by its political ambitions as it is by profit. Moreover, China has consistently shown itself to be a violator of global trade rules and norms.
So-called free trade with China would inevitably require that Canada compromise our national interest and our values. Canadian workers would suffer most as a result.
Steelworkers already have borne the brunt of China's unfair trading practices. Chinese over-production of steel, itself the result of state-led direction and policies, has depressed prices globally. But China continues to build its productive capacity in steel and other sectors and illegally dumps these products in other markets, including Canada.
China currently has more than 400 million tonnes of steel-making capacity – nearly 40 times the size of Canada's steel industry. China provides incentives to its producers to dump that steel into North America, displacing Canadian steel in the crucial NAFTA market and contributing to the loss of nearly $1 billion in Canadian exports to the U.S. last year compared to 2008.
Opening Canadian markets further to China's state-led exporters will devastate what remains of our steel sector and other key domestic industries, including aluminum, paper, glass and auto parts.
Furthermore, China wants its companies to be able to import their own workers to Canada to work on Chinese-financed investments, at the expense of Canadian jobs. Already, the Trudeau Liberals have twice made changes to the abuse-plagued Temporary Foreign Worker Program to allow companies to bring more temporary workers to Canada.
We believe that, before proceeding with any new trade negotiations, the Liberal government must clearly set out the specific components, principles and provisions of what it calls its "progressive trade" agenda. These must include meaningful, binding protections of human rights and labour and environmental standards.
Canadians and our trading partners must have a clear understanding of where our government stands on these critical issues. And whose bidding it is doing.
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