Labour mobility key ask for Canada in NAFTA

OTTAWA — Enhanced labour mobility is high on the list of goals for the Canadian government as it gears up for next month’s start of negotiations on a renewed North American Free Trade Agreement.

Ohio-based trade lawyer Dan Ujczo shares an anecdote that explains why:

A U.S. company was looking to make a “major investment” in either the Toronto area or Nashville, Tenn. The CEO had just decided Toronto would be the beneficiary when he was stopped at a border crossing by a Canadian border agent who told him he needed a work permit to enter Canada.

“The young woman said … ‘You know, sir, it’s my job to save Canadian jobs, I can’t let you across’,” Ujczo recounts.

“And he said, ‘Young lady, you just lost yourself 300 jobs.’”

That, says Ujczo, is an example of “the real world consequences” of antiquated labour mobility provisions in NAFTA.

“Companies, when they’re making those investment decisions, they want as streamlined a process as possible. And when they’re saying, ‘Look, I’m not going to be able to get my talent across the border,’ boom! Why even deal with the headache?”

NAFTA is supposed to ease the flow of labour between Canada, the United States and Mexico. It eliminates the need for companies to do a labour market impact assessment to prove that a job being temporarily filled by an eligible American or Mexican worker can’t be done by a Canadian.

For business visitors, it eliminates the need for a work permit. For professionals and intra-company transferees, it expedites the work visa process. But NAFTA does not apply to all professionals. It applies only to some 60 occupations, including doctor, dentist, lawyer, accountant, hotel manager, economist, engineer and scientist.

Many of the jobs most in demand today, particularly in the high-tech sector, didn’t exist when NAFTA was negotiated more than 20 years ago. Indeed, systems analyst is the only listed profession involving computers.

It’s a problem for manufacturers too, says Ujczo, who can’t move welders or tool and dye workers across the border to fill labour shortages or specialized employees needed to install, maintain and repair products sold to another country.

Moreover, NAFTA’s labour mobility provisions are inconsistently applied. The CEO in Ujczo’s anecdote, for instance, had crossed the border 19 times without a problem before being refused entry on his 20th trip.

“In our view, you can’t modernize the NAFTA and put in a new digital chapter and not address the movement of talent,” Ujczo says.

“It will be the biggest failure of the NAFTA modernization if we don’t achieve this.”

Both U.S. and Canadian companies are pushing hard for a freer flow of labour across the border. Nevertheless, Andrea van Vugt, the Business Council of Canada’s vice-president for North America, believes there’s a good chance it won’t materialize.

“I think you have both a legislative and political problem,” she says.

She notes that Congress has in the past blocked the U.S. president’s ability to include immigration issues in trade deals. And the environment for broaching greater labour mobility isn’t exactly favourable, what with Donald Trump’s unabashedly anti-immigration, protectionist, “Buy American, Hire American” agenda.

Just Posted

WATCH: A Russian new year party in Red Deer

Hundreds fill the G.H. Dawe Community Centre for the 10th Russian Children’s New Year Party

Car hits moose north of Red Deer, driver in hospital with life threatening injuries

One person was airlifted to hospital, and another taken by ambulance after… Continue reading

Red Deer’s Ten Thousand Villages to close in 2018

This will be the last Christmas for Red Deer’s Ten Thousand Villages.… Continue reading

Celestial light show can be seen over Red Deer this week

Local students stay up to watch the meteor shower

Businesses to gather to talk about crime

Red Deer Downtown Business Association understands challenges

Watch: Man plays flaming bagpipes while riding a unicycle in a ‘Star Wars’ costume

The sight of Darth Vader, riding a unicycle and playing flaming bagpipes,… Continue reading

Dying man’s wish to see new ‘Star Wars’ movie coming true

A dying man’s wish to see the new “Star Wars” movie is… Continue reading

Bountiful polygamist believed he couldn’t be prosecuted: lawyer

Winston Blackmore’s lawyer says Blackmore did not believe he could be prosecuted

Trudeaus, Mulroneys, Erdem? Canadians who could snag a royal wedding invite

Save the date. Kensington Palace announced Friday that Prince Harry and Meghan… Continue reading

More to be done to ensure timely justice, retiring Beverley McLachlin says

Canada’s retiring top judge says more must be done to ensure the… Continue reading

Labrador mayor who was shot in face in hunting accident has died

John Hickey accidently shot himself while checking rabbit snares

Shelter dogs could go vegan in Los Angeles

Los Angeles may soon be home to a lot more vegan dogs.… Continue reading

The coolest way to serve coffee at dinner’s end

I can put together a decent dinner party. But when it comes… Continue reading

Firefighter dies, thousands more take on California blaze

One of the thousands of firefighters battling a series of wildfires across… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month