No NAFTA without cultural exemption and a dispute settlement clause, Trudeau vows

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is insisting that Canada will not sign a renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement that doesn't protect Canada's cultural sectors — including the news media — or a dispute resolution mechanism.

NAFTA's cultural exemption clause meant to protect arts, broadcasting sectors

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a transit funding announcement in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018. Trudeau insists his government is holding the line on cultural industries and dispute settlement in ongoing NAFTA talks with the Trump administration. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is insisting that Canada will not sign a renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement that doesn't protect Canada's cultural sectors — including the news media — or a dispute resolution mechanism.

As it stands, NAFTA includes a cultural exemption clause, which means cultural goods are not treated like other commercial products. But there have been growing concerns about what protections a new deal would have for cultural industries.

"It is inconceivable to Canadians that an American network might buy Canadian media affiliates, whether it's newspapers or TV stations or TV networks. It would be a giving up of our sovereignty and our identity and that is something that we will simply not accept," Trudeau told reporters during a transit announcement in Vancouver Tuesday.

"We've made it very clear that defending that cultural exemption is something fundamental to Canadians."

During the media availability he was specifically asked about the news media and NAFTA's contentious dispute resolution mechanism, Chapter 19.

The U.S. has not specifically targeted the cultural exemption clause in its list of NAFTA demands, but any changes to the pact's rules on copyright, the digital economy and other technical matters could affect cultural industries here. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has raised Canada's broadcasting content and telecommunication ownership rules in his annual international trade irritant report.

Unifor president Jerry Dias, head of a private sector union that represents thousands of media workers, said he thinks eliminating Canadian content rules would be a deal breaker for the Liberal government.

"One thing Canada is not going to do is turn over our cultural identity to the United States. Can you imagine Fox TV buying the CBC?" he said. 

"Can you imagine how that would go over in Quebec? So that's on the no-fly list."

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard has said he will "forcefully" defend cultural exemptions. 

Trudeau's comments came as Canada's negotiating teams prepared to return to the NAFTA negotiating table in Washington Wednesday, after failing to secure a deal on Friday.

The Canada and U.S. teams still have decisions to make on Canada's contentious supply management systems and any updates to NAFTA's dispute settlement chapters.

Can you imagine Fox TV buying the  CBC ... that's on the no-fly list.- Unifor  president Jerry Dias

"We've said from the very beginning that we need a dispute resolution mechanism, like Chapter 19, and we will hold firm on that," he said.

"We will not sign a deal that is bad for Canadians and, quite frankly, not having a Chapter 19 to ensure that the rules are followed would be bad for Canadians."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to reporters Monday in Surrey, BC 1:37

The bargaining teams are working to finalize the text of the agreement before the end of the month. If Canada, Mexico and the U.S. want a signing ceremony before Mexico's government changes hands on Dec.1, the negotiated text must be delivered to Congress by Sept. 30.

If it isn't, Trump has threatened to move ahead on a deal with Mexico, without Canada.

On the weekend, Trump tweeted that there is "no political necessity" to keep Canada in NAFTA and warned Congress not to interfere or he would terminate the accord entirely.

Trudeau asked about new Woodward book

Earlier in the day, the Washington Post published explosive details from celebrated journalist Bob Woodward's upcoming book, Fear: Trump in the White House.

In it, Woodward claims that Trump's economic adviser at the time, Gary Cohn, surreptitiously removed papers from Trump's desk to prevent the president from signing them — including one document that would have signalled the president's intention to pull the U.S. out of NAFTA.

Asked about the excerpt in Vancouver, Trudeau tried to stay neutral.

Bob Woodward, seen in this 2012 photo, is a former Washington Post reporter who is known for his groundbreaking coverage of the Watergate scandal. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press) (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

"I think you know my approach on issues with the Americans is I don't comment on these aspects of things. We stay positive, we stay constructive, we stay willing to work for the best interests of Canadians in partnership with the Americans," he told reporters.

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders called the book "nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the president look bad."