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Canada looking to add environmental protections to NAFTA

© AFP/File | Ottawa and Washington have diverged on environmental issues, with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau championing the fight against climate change, and US President Donald Trump announcing his country's withdrawal of the 2015 Paris accord on global warming

OTTAWA (AFP) - 

Canada wants environmental protections added to a 23-year-old continental trade pact with Mexico and the United States, its top diplomat said Monday, ahead of trilateral talks in two days.

These protections, as laid out in a speech by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland at the University of Ottawa, would form part of stronger North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) labor provisions.

The proposed changes would also formally recognize gender and indigenous rights, and make it harder for companies to challenge government decisions that are in the "public interest," she said.

NAFTA talks are scheduled to start Wednesday in Washington and last several months.

Ottawa and Washington have diverged on environmental issues, with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau championing the fight against climate change, and US President Donald Trump announcing his country's withdrawal of the 2015 Paris accord on global warming.

But Canada has continued to cooperate with likeminded US states on climate issues.

"We can make NAFTA more progressive by bringing strong labor safeguards into the core of the agreement," Freeland said, "by integrating enhanced environmental provisions to ensure no NAFTA country weakens environmental protection to attract investment, for example, and that fully supports efforts to address climate change."

Freeland cited the Canada-EU free trade agreement that comes into effect on September 21 as a template for modernizing the country's trade ties with the United States and Mexico.

Freeland also called for changes to NAFTA to take into account technological advances of the past two decades, harmonizing regulations, removing barriers to bidding on government procurement, and allowing greater movement of professionals between the three countries.

She vowed a spirited defense of Canada's supply-managed dairy and poultry industries, and cultural sector, and reaffirmed a demand to maintain a strong dispute settlement system that Trump has said he wants nixed.

According to Canadian government figures, Canada, the United States and Mexico together account for one-quarter of the world's economy, with a combined 470 million consumers.

Trilateral trade has tripled since 1994 to Can$19 trillion (US$15 trillion).

Freeland said that Canada is the United State's biggest customer, buying more from the United States than China, Britain and Japan combined.

Bilateral trade in goods and services in 2016 was valued at US$635.1 billion. The United States had a slight trade surplus of US$8.1 billion with Canada last year.

© 2017 AFP