December 10, 2017 12:19 pm

Trade deal with China ‘impossible’ and NAFTA remains ‘a mess’: Unifor president Jerry Dias

WATCH ABOVE: Unifor President and NAFTA stakeholder, Jerry Dias, tells Vassy Kapelos NAFTA has been a colossal disaster for Canada so fixing it is a priority and on a possible trade deal with China, Dias says this is impossible.


The head of Canada’s largest private-sector union says he’s not surprised that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came home this weekend without any progress made on a free-trade deal with China.

In fact, said Unifor president Jerry Dias, such a deal may prove to be a pipe dream.

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“I think it is impossible,” he told The West Block‘s Vassy Kapelos. “The prime minister and the Canadian team candidly have been very specific that (with) any trade deal that they’re going to sign that, frankly, human rights is going to be the cornerstone of their foreign policy.”

READ MORE: Justin Trudeau leaves China without securing commitment to trade talks

Unless China starts to show signs of updating its labour standards or improving its record on human rights, Dias added, “then I’m not concerned at all that (Trudeau) really walked away empty-handed. As a matter of fact, it makes sense.”

Canada’s trade deficit with China remains enormous, he noted, with China exporting far more goods and services to Canada than Canada exports there. That gives them bargaining power.

“The tail is not going to wag the dog, that’s crystal clear,” Dias told Kapelos. “You don’t need a formal trading agreement to have trade.”

Rebuilding NAFTA

Dias has spent the better part of the last several months focusing on another trade pact, however: the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Brought in early to the negotiations between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, Dias has remained present throughout the multiple rounds of talks and has said he feels the Canadian government is treating his union as a “legitimate stakeholder.”

But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to see changes. Unifor has been highly critical of the perceived imbalances in manufacturing jobs — and particularly the outsourcing of auto manufacturing work to Mexico — that have emerged under the current agreement, initially signed in the early 1990s.

“NAFTA’s been a colossal disaster for Canada,” Dias said.

“When Donald Trump says that NAFTA is a mess that is the only thing I agree with him on … Mexico has eight per cent of the auto market and 45 per cent of the jobs.”

WATCH: Trump talks NAFTA during meeting with GOP senators

An updated version of the agreement could not only help correct that imbalance, he argued, but offer new protections for Mexican workers.

“A Mexican worker can never afford to buy the car that they build … so why would we sign a trade deal with a country where we know it’s going to continue to get worse?” Dias said.

“If we can get NAFTA right, if we can start talking about workers instead of just profits, I would argue that the world would be a much better place.”

And if the deal can’t be fixed?

“Then we’re better off walking away from it.”

— Watch the full interview with Unifor president Jerry Dias above.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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