U.S. Congress could stretch out approval process for new NAFTA


WASHINGTON—Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown say the new NAFTA needs big changes. Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke and Amy Klobuchar, among others, haven’t yet offered firm opinions.

Their opinions now matter. Any one of these current and possible Democratic presidential candidates could determine the fate of the agreement, either as the party nominee or as the president.

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signed a new free trade agreement in Buenos Aires on Nov. 30, 2018.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signed a new free trade agreement in Buenos Aires on Nov. 30, 2018.  (TOM BRENNER / NYT FILE PHOTO)

Although the leaders of the U.S., Canada and Mexico signed the agreement last November, this is not a done deal: there is a real chance more negotiations will be necessary to satisfy the Democrats, who now control the U.S. House of Representatives. And there is a real chance that the approval process will drag on into the next presidential term, which begins in 2021.

Congressional Democrats say they will not approve the agreement unless President Donald Trump, who calls it the USMCA, agrees to add language that would make it easier to enforce provisions on labour and on the environment. Democrats, like Trump, have long expressed concerns about U.S. jobs being lost to Mexico, where wages and labour standards are lower.

Politics are also a factor. Democrats are reluctant to give Trump perceived wins as the 2020 election approaches. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who used procedural tools to delay votes on George W. Bush trade agreements, will eventually start taking cues from the person who emerges as the party nominee.

Jennifer Hillman, a senior official with the U.S. trade representative’s office during the Bill Clinton administration, said she thinks there is only a 10 per cent chance the current Congress will ratify the agreement.

“What is the incentive for Nancy Pelosi to put this up on the floor of the House?” said Hillman, now a Georgetown Law professor.

In her most positive public remarks about the deal to date, Pelosi told HuffPost’s Jen Bendery and a group of other U.S. reporters on Friday that it “has been not as contentious as some of the other trade bills, so far,” and she said Trump’s trade chief has been “very attentive” to Democrats’ concerns.

But Pelosi added: “The fact is that the bill, no matter how good it is, if it doesn’t have enforcement, it’s just a conversation.” And she said, “I voted for NAFTA the first time, and I can just tell you, I can still feel the heat.”

Republicans have a whole separate set of concerns. And Rep. Kevin Brady, a senior Republican on the trade file, said at a Washington event Tuesday that members of both parties have told him they are not even willing to “consider” the agreement until the steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada and Mexico are “ensured to be lifted” and Trump abandons his threat of imposing quotas in their place.

The process will be delayed at least slightly by Trump’s just-concluded government shutdown. The U.S. International Trade Commission said this week that its report analyzing the economic impact of the new agreement, which Congress originally expected by mid-March, will now come as many as 35 days later.

Current and likely Democratic presidential candidates differ in their trade views. Warren, Sanders and Brown are vehement opponents of NAFTA. Former vice-president Biden voted for NAFTA but has since said it needs to be changed, while O’Rourke, a former congressman from Texas, has been a vocal NAFTA supporter.

Trump is often more aligned with the trade-skeptical views of congressional Democrats than with pro-trade congressional Republicans, and the agreement includes some new protectionist provisions. John Weekes, Canada’s chief negotiator on the original NAFTA, said the Democrats probably see the revised NAFTA as an improvement on the original — but, “of course, politics will enter into this.”

“I think it’s going to be pretty hard,” said Weekes, now senior business adviser at law firm Bennett Jones.

Hillman said passage would likely require Trump to make a significant concession to Democrats on some other big issue, plus an all-out White House persuasion push like the “huge operation” mounted by Clinton’s team in 1993. “I don’t think the Trump administration is capable of doing that. And there is certainly not any sense that they’re starting it,” she said.

Other experts are at least slightly more optimistic. Simon Lester, associate director of trade policy at the libertarian Cato Institute, said on Twitter that there is a 25 per cent to 50 per cent chance the current Congress does not pass the agreement, although he added it is “very hard to estimate at this point.”

Trump has threatened to play hardball if Congress won’t budge, saying he would begin the process of withdrawing from the current NAFTA to try to give Congress a take-it-or-leave-it decision between the new deal or nothing. Such a move would be challenged in court and would likely anger congressional Republicans.

There is a precedent for newly empowered Democrats forcing a renegotiation of a trade agreement signed by a Republican president. During his 1992 campaign, Clinton announced that he broadly supported George H.W. Bush’s NAFTA but would not bring it into law unless its “deficiencies” on labour and the environment were addressed through what he called “supplemental agreements” — provisions added to the deal package but separated from the agreed-upon main text.

So intensive negotiations started up again when Clinton won, and they lasted more than six months. Canada and Mexico “weren’t surprised” about having to return to the table, said Mickey Kantor, Clinton’s top trade official at the time, but “it was a daunting task.”

“They understood the politics of the U.S. On the other hand, they were pretty adamant about the agreement they had already negotiated with the U.S.,” Kantor said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ambassador to the U.S., David MacNaughton, has made a pitch to Congress for the current agreement, noting that it has labour and environmental provisions in the main text and that “there is some enforceability.” He said in mid-January that he is “confident” Congress will support the agreement.

It is not clear if side agreements would work this time as a way to resolve congressional concerns. One possibility that would avoid a broad renegotiation, Weekes said, would be the U.S. making changes through the legislation Congress will have to pass to bring the deal into effect.

One thing seems certain: Canada will face uncertainty through to the very end of the process. Weekes recalled the Canadian side having to fight off last-minute U.S. “shenanigans” when there was an attempt to sneak language into the legislation that differed from what the countries had agreed upon.

Daniel Dale is the Star’s Washington bureau chief. He covers U.S. politics and current affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @ddale8


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Health Canada stands by approval of ingredient in Roundup weed killer


Health Canada scientists say there is no reason to believe the scientific evidence they used to approve the continued use of glyphosate in weed killers was tainted.

On Friday they rejected, again, arguments that the ingredient in herbicides like Monsanto’s Roundup causes cancer if the substances are used as they’re supposed to be.

The department’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency is required to reassess herbicides every 15 years and after such a reassessment in 2017 it approved glyphosate for continued use in Canada with some additional labelling requirements. The review looked at more than 1,300 studies and concluded glyphosate products pose no risk to people or the environment as long as they are properly used and labelled.

Glyphosate is one of the most common herbicides used in the world, is in more than 130 products sold in Canada and has widespread use by farmers to keep weeds out of their crops.

After the decision, eight objections were filed, many of which said the evidence used to approve the product was tainted because Monsanto had influenced the results.

Their accusations were largely based on documents filed in a U.S. lawsuit in which a former groundskeeper was awarded a multimillion-dollar settlement after jurors decided his cancer was linked to glyphosate.

Bottles of Roundup herbicide, a product of Monsanto, are displayed on a store shelf in St. Louis. The generic name is glysophate and it is one of the most widely used agricultural herbicides in the world. (Jeff Roberson/Associated Press)

‘No stone unturned’

The groups, including Ecojustice, Environmental Defence and Canadian Physicians for the Environment, wanted Health Minister Ginette Petipas Taylor to order an independent review of the Health Canada decision.

Instead Health Canada assigned 20 scientists not part of the original review to look at the matter. Connie Moase, a director in the health-effects division of the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, said Friday the scientists « left no stone unturned » in reviewing the decision.

« The objections raised did not create doubt or concern regarding the scientific basis for the 2017 re-evaluation decision for glyphosate, » said Moase.

She said the documents, known as the Monsanto Papers, were mainly reviews of studies, not studies themselves, and that Health Canada’s approval was based on the actual studies.

Moase added that no pest regulatory management agency in the world says glyphosate causes cancer at current levels of exposure.

Bayer Canada pleased 

Trish Jordan, the public-and-industry-affairs director for Bayer Canada’s crop-science division, said the company supported the additional review Health Canada launched and is also pleased with the result.

Monsanto has previously denied any attempt to influence scientific studies on glyphosate.

« We have an unwavering commitment to sound science, transparency and to producing valuable tools that will help farmers continue to feed a growing population in a sustainable manner, » Jordan said.

Elaine MacDonald, head of healthy communities for Ecojustice, said the decision is a big disappointment.

« How can we trust the science if we can’t be sure that it’s independent? » she said.

Muhannad Malas, the toxics program manager at Environmental Defence, said there is no reason to trust Health Canada if it assigns its own scientists to review the work of their peers.

« We maintain that the public cannot be confident about the validity of the government’s decision to re-authorize glyphosate unless the health minister strikes an independent panel of experts who are not affiliated with Health Canada or industry, » he said.

Thierry Belair, spokesman for Petipas Taylor, said the government is very aware Canadians have concerns about pesticides and this review was done with the utmost of care.

« A team of 20 of our best scientists reviewed the evidence before coming to this decision, » he said. « As always, we have asked them to continue to monitor for new information related to this pesticide, and to take action if needed. »

Recent testing by Environmental Defence uncovered traces of glyphosate in a number of popular food products including doughnuts, cookies and cereals. However the amounts were well below the levels Health Canada says would be unsafe for human consumption.


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Barrie city councillors give initial approval for retail cannabis shops – Barrie


At a general committee meeting Monday evening, Barrie city councillors gave initial approval for allowing bricks-and-mortar cannabis stores within the city’s borders.

A staff report to the general committee recommended provincially licensed retail stores be permitted within Barrie, subject to provincial and federal regulations.

Applications open to enter lottery for 25 retail cannabis licenses in Ontario

The province has given municipalities until Jan. 22 to opt out of having private cannabis storefronts operate within their boundaries. If the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) has not received written notification from a municipality by the deadline, private cannabis retail stores will be allowed within the jurisdiction by default.

If Barrie chooses to opt in, the city will have little say as to where the cannabis retail stores will be located. That decision is up to the AGCO, which will be responsible for approving or denying site applications.

Applications open to enter lottery for 25 retail cannabis licenses in Ontario

According to provincial regulations, retail cannabis stores must be at least 150 metres away from schools, must bar anyone under the age of 19 from entering and will operate between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m.

However, Barrie’s plan is to extend the 150-metre limit to 300 metres around schools, Georgian College locations, parks and open spaces, day nurseries and childcare centres, libraries, community centres, mental health centres and addiction facilities such as alcohol and detox centres and clinics.

Lottery for 25 Ontario retail cannabis licences to take place next week

City council would also like to extend the distance between cannabis stores and stores that sell alcohol to 300 metres to avoid “clustering” and would ban the smoking of cannabis, including vaping, on city sidewalks.

If the city decides to opt in, staff will include these additional proposed guidelines in their “public interest statement” to the AGCO for consideration.

Now that councillors have given their initial approval, the matter will be up for final approval on Monday.

The first 25 retail cannabis stores are scheduled to open on April 1.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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Tweed mayor voices concern after pot-growing licences granted without local approval – Kingston


A few new farms have sprouted in Tweed, Ont., without the approval of the mayor.

Tweed Mayor Jo-Anne Albert received complaints about the cultivation of pot on local properties during the spring. The municipality and the OPP were going to conduct a raid until they were notified that the resident had a federally granted licence to grow cannabis.

Tyendinaga cannabis store owners use attempted robbery as inspiration to create music

On the Government of Canada website, under the  Information for Municipalities for Medical Use of Cannabis, it reads:

When applying to be a licensed producer under the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR), or when applying to amend a licence, an applicant must notify:

Albert says the Canadian government never notified her or anyone else on her staff, which resulted in a bylaw being initiated throughout the municipality of Tweed.

“I’m not happy with what the federal government did — so our bylaw says any person or farm who plans to grow cannabis must do so inside a covered building and it cannot be in an open space,” said Albert.

Cannabis store held up in Tyendinaga Territory, say police

The OPP told Global News that they will enforce the new laws and rules around cannabis which is a combination of federal and provincial cannabis legislation.

After Oct. 17, any person over the age of 19 can cultivate up to four plants per residence inside or outside of their property.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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