Foreign worker reforms clash with trade agenda

posted on May 17, 2014

By Bill Curry, the Globe and Mail | Link to Article

By Bill Curry, the Globe and Mail | Link to Article

The Conservative government’s overhaul of the temporary foreign worker program is on a collision course with its ambitious plans to sign trade deals that would allow more foreign workers to enter Canada hassle-free.

Trade negotiations have become a constant focus for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. His message: Canada must expand foreign markets for Canadian goods and services in an effort to reduce an overwhelming economic dependence on the United States.

The final text of the much-vaunted Canada-European Union free trade agreement (CETA) is expected to include a list of occupations that can be fast-tracked into Canada and would allow European firms to bring European workers into Canada through inter-company transfers, with reciprocity for Canadian firms. The Conservative government has described the deal’s provisions for temporary entry of labour as “the most ambitious ever in a free trade agreement.”

Also on the horizon is a long-promised free-trade deal with India. But issues around temporary foreign workers are among the main reasons no deal has been reached. The Conservative government had promised to complete a deal in 2013.

While discussions have also been delayed in part because of India’s lengthy election cycle, the fact that foreign workers have emerged as a potential stumbling block has implications for other lucrative trade agreements that Canada hopes to realize. It remains to be seen whether the resounding victory by Narendra Modi, a pro-business Hindu nationalist who heads the Bharatiya Janata Party, will help Canada overcome the impasse.

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