Introducing the session the chair, Professor Peter Warrian, set the tone asking, whether the North American Agreement on Labour Cooperation ("NAALC", or the "Agreement") would serve as a foundation for international citizenship or merely entrench the status quo?
Mr. Kevin Banks stated that the NAALC was very much an intergovernmental agreement. However, he also stressed that the Agreement has, thus far, acted as a catalyst to bring groups together. Banks interpreted the 22 public complaints received by the Commission for Labour Cooperation as indicating a rise in cross-border union co-operation, as well as the development of partnerships between unions and human rights NGOs. Although Banks saw this as a positive development he questioned future progress under the Agreement. Concerned with the complexity of labour problems and the politically charged nature of labour politics Banks worried that complaint?driven public participation may only present a "hollow hope". Thus, Banks wondered whether there were additional opportunities under the NAALC for expanded forms of participation? He hoped that institutions like the Secretariat could assist NGOs and other concerned groups to systematically advance reforms.
Mr. Jim Stanford dismissed the NAALC as window dressing, and as primarily a public relations document. He satirically emphasised the differences between Chapter 11 of the NAFTA and the side agreement positing it would be better for unions to incorporate themselves in Mexico and submit a complaint under the investment regime than under the Agreement. Stanford characterised free trade agreements ("FTA") as an effort on the part of a state to ensure investors it is open for business. Hence, FTAs are primarily concerned with power and have an inherent bias against regulation. Since this asymmetry prejudices unions, Stanford argues that the primary goal of unions should be to roll back trade agreements in favour of a more democratic regime. Concern for the deregulatory emphasis of FTAs is the main reason underlying roll back efforts. He also questioned Mr. Banks' notion of increasing international unionism stating that a union is more effective when it concentrates its efforts on domestic governments.
Professor Marc Levine challenged the notion that free trade agreements have stimulated economic growth. Levine pointed towards the bifurcation of labour markets throughout Canada and the United States and the stagnation of real wages to demonstrate that all economic consequences of FTAs are not unambiguously positive. Based on this analysis, Levine wondered whether we are at a point politically where we can realise real commitments to labour standards.
During the ensuing discussion, Dr. Ostry compared the NAALC to the labour policies of the European Union. Because of the profound changes associated with EU unification Ostry stated that labour policies had to be more than trade adjustments, indeed policies should be structural adjustments. Banks agreed that the segmentation of the workforce was one of the main issues of international economic integration. However, he did not feel political will exists in North America to implement regulation to adequately deal with this problem.
Prof. William Dymond emphasised that the primary concern of the FTAs was a balance of advantage.