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PM touts progressive trade

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took his so-called progressive trade agenda to the United States on Tuesday, arguing that worker-friendly policies are key to saving public support for free trade.

He made that case in a speech as he arrived in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, and was presented an award for global citizenship by the Atlantic Council think tank.

The prime minister noted that some critics at home have made fun of his government for pushing chapters on gender equality, indigenous rights, and labour protections as priorities for a new North American Free Trade Agreement under the argument that these things have nothing to do with trade.

But he suggested this is no laughing matter for anyone who cares about preserving trade, in an era when populist currents have threatened to topple international agreements in Europe, Asia and North America.

"Some appear to have been confused by this," Trudeau said "It's as though they expect us to do trade exactly the same way it was done by our parents, a quarter century ago."

He said trade deals have been broadly positive for the majority of citizens but if they were perfect there would be no populist backlash like the ones currently occurring, especially in former manufacturing regions slammed by offshoring and automation.

"So we need to do a better job of ensuring the benefits of trade extend to the middle class and those working hard to join the middle class — not just the wealthiest few," Trudeau said.

"In short, progressive trade is not a frill. In addition to being the right thing to do, it is a practical necessity, without which popular support for a growth agenda cannot be maintained."

He noted as an example the push for labour rights. Sources say the Canadian government hopes the new NAFTA includes stronger union protections for Mexican workers, and an end to U.S. right-to-work laws that limit the potential to strike.



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