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Canada-EU free trade to go further than NAFTA on labour mobility


I had the pleasure of attending a lunch with the Honourable Vic Toews, Federal Minister of Public Safety, this weekend in Kelowna, British Columbia.  The speech addressed various cross-border issues, including the future of labour mobility between Canada and its major trading partners.

During the speech Minister Toews discussed the current free trade negotiations between Canada and the European Union.  The two economic partners have been involved in a prolonged negotiation process over the past few years known as the Canada-European Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (“CETA”).  The CETA talks have however accelerated over the past year and the Federal Government has indicated that they hope to have a final framework agreement in place by the end of 2012.

There has been little information available to the public to date with respect to the details of any final agreement. Although the agreement covers several areas of trade, I have long been interested in what if any provisions will exist addressing labour market mobility. After all, the European Union has a population of over 500 million people and produces approximately 17 trillion dollars of economic activity a year, significantly more than the United States in both respects.

I decided to ask the question. In response Minister Toews indicated that the Federal Government envisioned that CETA would be more comprehensive than the labour mobility provisions under NAFTA so that this agreement will represent a new milestone with respect to freedom of labour between Canada and foreign jurisdictions.

If CETA does in fact do what Minister Toews and the Federal Government has been suggesting, this could have a major impact on Canada’s labour market. The number of Europeans working in Canada would almost certainly jump. In fact, this is something that has received surprisingly little attention, particularly when compared to the national discussion and controversy surrounding NAFTA.

While we still do not have the benefit of details of any such agreement, there is little doubt that this agreement, assuming that it is passed, will be another major step in the globalization of our labour force.

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