The United States, Mexico and Canada have reached a provisional agreement (the USMCA) on a new trade deal to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). NWAC is encouraged by the inclusion of Article 32.5 of the new USMCA, an exception provision that will ensure that the agreement will not undermine the ability of the parties to fulfill their legal obligations to Indigenous peoples.

NWAC congratulates the Government of Canada in successfully negotiating for the inclusion of this provisions, as trade can have serious implications for the rights and interests of Indigenous peoples, particularly Indigenous women and children.

But, while the Indigenous Rights Exception is an important component of a progressive trade agenda that respects and supports Indigenous peoples, it is not enough. The recognition by the parties to the USMCA that the agreement must not impede a state’s obligations to Indigenous peoples must be understood in the context of Bill C-262 and Article 21.2 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Bill C-262 is a private members bill introduced by Romeo Saganash and supported by the government, which will recognize UNDRIP as a human rights document with domestic application in Canada and require the conformity of Canada’s laws with the document. Article 21.2 of UNDRIP requires states to take effective and special measures to improve the economic and social conditions of Indigenous peoples, particularly Indigenous women and children.

NWAC encourages the Government of Canada to take full advantage of Article 32.5 of the USMCA and respect its obligations under Article 21.2 of UNDRIP. This requires more than ensuring Indigenous women are no longer disproportionately negatively affected by international trade agreements, but that Indigenous women are provided with meaningful opportunities to equally and fully participate in economic opportunities that flow from trade and to ensure that these economic activities meaningfully and substantially ameliorate the socio-economic condition of Indigenous women and children.