Toronto – October 1, 2014 – Stephen Harper continues to shut down Canadian democracy by not allowing for debate in Parliament on the majority of free trade agreements that the Conservatives have negotiated or signed, and he seems to believe that Canadians do not need to know the details of these pacts. By contrast, Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair has stated that the NDP will not support or oppose a free trade agreement until they have seen its details and determined whether it will be in the best interests of Canadians. This is a reasonable and responsible approach to trade.
Despite Harper’s lack of transparency on free trade agreements, there is one agreement that is being supported by all parties: the Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement (CKFTA). While this agreement would have likely been negotiated differently by the NDP, and may not be a boon to all sectors of the economy, it will be in the best interests of Canadians and – in our opinion – contains more positives than negatives.
For UFCW Canada members, CKFTA will be beneficial. Korea is heavily dependent on food imports, with demand exceeding $28 billion annually, and it is Canada’s fifth-largest agriculture and food export market. But in lieu of a formal trade deal between Canada and Korea, the Canadian agriculture and agri-foods sectors are missing out on potential business opportunities. This in turn impacts the 2.1 million workers who labour in Canada's agriculture and agri-foods sectors. Signing the agreement will help Canadian exporters expand their market share, and support jobs in this sector – many of which are, or will be, unionized.
As it stands right now, Korean tariffs on Canadian pork and beef are as high as 25 to 40 percent, and beef exports to South Korea shrank between 2011 and 2013. But CKFTA will level the playing field for Canadian agriculture and agri-food workers. This will bring significant benefits to UFCW Canada members, particularly in Quebec and Ontario, which are the top Canadian provincial exporters of pork. Also, while concerns have been raised about the agreement's impact on Canada's auto sector, the agreement will in fact benefit car manufacturers since Korea will drop its 8 percent tariff on North American auto exports.
Granted, it is difficult to predict all of the possible repercussions of the deal, and whether it succeeds in the short term will largely depend on how quickly South Korea is able to recover from the economic downturn that it is currently experiencing. But on the whole, we believe CKFTA will benefit most sectors of the Canadian economy, and UFCW Canada members stand to benefit from the deal going forward.