Republicans want LGBTQ clause cut from USMCA – should trade talks dictate social policy?

Click to play video: 'Trudeau mum on what he’ll do to protect LGBTQ2+ provision in USMCA'
Trudeau mum on what he’ll do to protect LGBTQ2+ provision in USMCA
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was silent on what he would do to protect the LGBTQ provision in the USMCA when asked about the LGBTQ clause, only saying there will always be people who like or dislike certain aspects in a trade deal – Nov 19, 2018

There are two lines about LGBTQ issues in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

The first pledges all three countries to support “policies that protect workers against employment discrimination on the basis of sex, including with regard to pregnancy, sexual harassment, sexual orientation, gender identity.”

The second calls for co-operative activities to end job discrimination based on the above, as well as racial issues.

READ MORE: Justin Trudeau mum on what he’ll do to protect LGBTQ2+ provision in USMCA

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But U.S. lawmakers say the trade agreement — which was heavily negotiated for more than a year — shouldn’t be the place to decide social issues.

“As a sovereign nation, the United States has the right to decide when, whether and how to tackle issues of civil rights, protected classes and workplace rights,” reads a joint letter from 40 Republicans, released Friday.

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The letter urges Trump not to sign the agreement.

“A trade agreement is no place for the adoption of social policy. It is especially inappropriate and insulting to our sovereignty to needlessly submit to social policies which the United States Congress has so far explicitly refused to accept.”

WATCH: Republican governor criticizes tone of U.S. during negotiations of USMCA

Click to play video: 'Republican governor criticizes tone of U.S. during negotiations of USMCA'
Republican governor criticizes tone of U.S. during negotiations of USMCA

When asked, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the deal included some of the strongest labour provisions of any trade deal negotiated by Canada, but that he wasn’t going to negotiate in public about how far Canada would go to keep the clause in the USMCA.

Mexican trade officials defended the inclusion of the anti-discrimination clauses.

READ MORE: Canada pushing back against U.S. attempts to change text of USMCA deal: official

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“Mexico’s goal was to create a more inclusive agreement and we did it,” said Kenneth Smith Ramos, Mexico’s head of the technical negotiation for NAFTA, on Twitter.

“The three #NAFTA partners realized that in order to create a consensus in favor of #trade agreements, state-of-the-art and progressive disciplines that encompass economic and social issues needed to be included in the new agreement.

“The world has evolved dramatically in a quarter century and so should global trade policy,” he said.

Prof. Robert Bothwell of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto says he can’t remember seeing LGBTQ issues in trade policies before now. But he says there are 19th century examples in which tariffs were erected for essentially standard-of-living considerations.

“Requiring a partner to adjust their labour policy is in a sense new, and it remains to be seen whether it would work,” he explained.

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LGBTQ2+ advocacy group Egale said it strongly stands by the clause in the deal, and encourages Canada to stand by it.

“We firmly believe that any new international trade agreement should uphold Canada’s human rights values and should strive to be more inclusive, especially regarding labour and gender rights as well as all anti-discrimination policies towards any minority group,” said Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale Canada, in a statement to Global News.

“At the end of the day, it is policies like this that save lives and make our world a safer and more inclusive place for everyone.”

She explained that employment is a huge problem for trans and gender diverse people — even in Ontario more than 50 per cent of trans people earn less than $15,000 a year, according to the Trans Pulse Project. 

Adding a clause like this into trade policies gives Canada and other nations an opportunity to tackle this issue head on.

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Trudeau previously said that he would use trade deals to “nudge” countries into having better human rights.

“Canada will always try to engage, be very direct about always and consistently standing up for human rights and at the same time try and create a relationship that allows us to perhaps advance, nudge, move forward in a way that will be better for their citizens as well as ours. It’s a very careful balancing act that we’re constantly engaged in,” he said last week.

The comments were made while Trudeau was in Singapore for the annual ASEAN summit, organized by a 10-nation bloc that, when combined, is Canada’s sixth-largest trading partner.

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