Canadian negotiators are pushing to insert a “groundbreaking” chapter on Indigenous rights into the North American Free Trade Agreement, according to a representative from the Haudenosaunee Confederacy who has been briefed on the talks.
Kenneth Deer, who is the external relations representative for the confederacy, said Canadian negotiators recently tabled a draft chapter on Trade and Indigenous Peoples that includes language referring the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the protection of traditional Indigenous knowledge.
Deer, who has extensive international experience representing the confederacy, also said the draft includes mention of the creation of a committee on trade and Indigenous people with representatives from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.
“It’s not an initiative from Mexico or the United States, it’s an initiative of Canada to be engaged positively for and in defence of Indigenous peoples,” said Deer, whose confederacy represents six Iroquois nations on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.
“In that way it’s groundbreaking… We’ll see how it goes.”
Deer said Mexican negotiators were “optimistic and complimentary about the text” while U.S. negotiators gave it a much colder reception. He said Mexico had some questions around traditional knowledge, but supported sections on health, education and economic development.
It remains unclear whether NAFTA will survive the current negotiations as a result of the U.S. opening position that the trade agreement is a bad deal. Deer said he believes the proposed chapter will create a model for other agreements even if NAFTA fails.
Global Affairs Canada spokesperson John Babcock said negotiators tabled the chapter during round 5 of NAFTA talks. He said Ottawa’s desire to make NAFTA more “inclusive” drove the decision to propose the chapter.
“The government looks forward to continuing our dialogue with Indigenous peoples and Indigenous businesses on how a modernized NAFTA can better address their concerns and support their ability to benefit from NAFTA trade,” said Babcock, in a statement.
Deer said Canadian officials have cast a wide net in seeking Indigenous input on ongoing NAFTA talks. He said it was “relatively new” for the Canadian government to engage with…