Midweek podcast: Trade union boss not ready to back new NAFTA yet

Midweek podcast: Trade union boss not ready to back new NAFTA yet

The United Steelworkers union is applauding the end of the metal tariff dispute, but International President Leo Gerard says he won't be pushing for ratification of the new NAFTA anytime soon.

The trade union boss told CBC Radio's The House that a primary barrier to sealing the deal is ensuring that Mexico's new labour law reforms will be followed – a major sticking point for U.S. Democrats who are demanding stronger enforcement measures for the reform-related pieces of the agreement.

"Until you give the ability to have labour law reform and until you have it enforced in Mexico, we're not going to be out supporting a trade deal," Gerard told host Chris Hall.

Last week, the prime minister announced the U.S. would lift tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum products. It's now up to Canada, the U.S. and Mexico to ratify the agreement. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told The House that she couldn't confirm whether ratification would happen before the federal election, but said that the Liberal government was moving "full steam ahead".

But Gerard warns his union's support will hinge on better safeguards to protect Canadian steel products.

"We have to have surge protection, we need to have a safeguard against illegally traded steel, we have to watch against circumvention."

Surtaxes meant to safeguard Canadian products from cheaper foreign competition were removed from five kinds of steel products earlier this month, though they remain in place for heavy plate and stainless steel wire. That came after the Canadian International Trade Tribunal found no justification to surtax the other products. The Liberal government has launched a 30-day consultation period to determine if added protections are needed.

Gerard says Canada is lagging behind the U.S., Mexico and the European Union in terms of having stronger measures in place.

And while the longtime union president says there is "no chance" the union will endorse a Republican candidate in 2020, his stance isn't as definitive when it comes to Canada's upcoming federal election.

But he did caution that the Liberals should not "bask in the glory" of the tariff resolution.