12/13/2013 09:14 EST | Updated 02/12/2014 05:59 EST

NDP on CETA: Details Matter

Last month the NDP welcomed progress towards a trade agreement with Europe. New Democrats fully support growing our trade relationship with the European Union -- an alliance of modern democracies that have some of the highest standards in the world. EU members share Canada's commitment to fostering democracy, protecting the environment, and respecting labour and human rights. Countries that have achieved these goals -- or are making demonstrable progress towards them -- are the kind of countries that New Democrats believe Canada should be strengthening its ties with.

The EU is also a large and important market for Canada. For decades New Democrats have argued that Canada should be diversifying our economic relations and reducing our dependence on the US economy. Deepening and broadening our trade with the European Union presents an opportunity to do that.

So while Europe is undoubtedly a good trade partner, the question is: have the Conservatives negotiated a good deal for Canada? The answer is we can't say until we see the actual deal. Just as most Canadians wouldn't sign a major contract without reading and understanding it first, New Democrats won't support or oppose a trade agreement that we haven't seen.

Like most Canadians, the NDP does not believe that trade agreements are inherently good or inherently bad; we believe it depends on their terms. With complex trade deals like the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA), the details matter tremendously. The summary document Conservatives have distributed to promote the deal is just that -- a glossy summary. There are many large gaps and unexplained issues in critical areas. What is clear is that we cannot fairly judge a deal without seeing the final text and consulting with Canadians who would be affected.

The NDP has long advocated for a more open and transparent government. That is why it is important to us to consult with those who sit outside of the well-connected insider groups that Liberals and Conservatives favour. We believe municipalities, labour groups, academics, NGOs, small businesspeople and everyday citizens deserve to have their voices heard and considered. When it comes to agreements that affect the rights of Aboriginal peoples, consultation is not just the right thing to do, it's a constitutional requirement.

Many Canadians have raised concerns and sensitivities about the CETA; they are real and we understand them well. Investor-state dispute settlement, public procurement, pharmaceutical costs, impacts on the dairy industry, seafood processing and others are all matters of significant concern and must be carefully assessed. While we understand that trade deals involve some give and take -- the key question is whether there is a satisfactory balance.

The information provided by the Government claims that important protections have been maintained. Provinces and municipalities have sought and purportedly received exceptions that will allow them to continue buy-local policies in key areas.

New and important market access has been gained for key exports, and there are relatively strong provisions in the labour and environmental areas. Where the Government admits the deal may have negative impacts, such as for dairy and cheese producers and the cost of pharmaceutical drugs, they have promised compensation. Is this a real commitment or an empty promise? We know better than to accept the Government's claims at face value, but we also cannot reject them before we have all the facts.

What is clear is that CETA is a complex deal that requires careful analysis, and that such an analysis is simply not possible until the text is released.

Canadians expect their elected representatives to properly study such agreements and stand up for their interests.

They can count on the NDP to do just that.

Canada-EU Free Trade Deal: What You Need To Know