Justin Trudeau accepts global citizenship award from Atlantic Council think tank

Queen Rania of Jordan presents Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with an award before he speaks at the Atlantic Council Global Citizen Awards Gala dinner at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City, Tuesday September 19, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

NEW YORK – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took his so-called progressive trade agenda to the United States on Tuesday.

In a speech to a black-tie gala aboard an aircraft carrier in the Hudson River, Trudeau argued that worker-friendly policies are key to saving public support for free trade.

The prime minister – who is in New York for the United Nations General Assembly – was presented an award for global citizenship by the Atlantic Council think tank.

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Jordan’s Queen Rania praised Trudeau’s values and his work on Syrian refugees as he stepped up to the stage Tuesday night to receive his award.

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Trudeau 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, arguing 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.

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“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.

The sources say some of these ideas have swiftly been deemed non-starters by the other NAFTA parties.

The speech included three themes: progressive trade, promoting human rights, and preserving the post-Second World War multilateral order.

Some of those post-war institutions have come under attack recently by President Donald Trump, who argues that the U.S. pays too much into organizations like NATO and the United Nations and gets too little out of them.

It was a common theme of Trump’s speech to the General Assembly earlier Tuesday – he toasted the merits of nationalism, and the idea that countries should be free exercise their own sovereignty.

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