Atlantica trade zone talks spark 2nd day of protest

CBC | Sun Jun 11, 2006

Atlantica trade zone talks spark 2nd day of protest

Activists protested for a second day in New Brunswick on Saturday as business leaders met to discuss a proposed free-trade zone for the Maritimes, Quebec and northeastern United States.

About 400 people - from trade unions, women’s groups and environmental organizations - gathered inside a hockey rink in Saint John before marching through the streets.

Meanwhile, business leaders were gathered at the city’s Trade and Convention Centre on the last of a three-day conference aimed at creating the zone, dubbed "Atlantica."

Canadian business leaders attending the meeting said they want to beef up the flow of trade from a region of the northeastern United States that stretches from Buffalo, N.Y. to the coast.

They also want governments to improve the roadways and rail links across the area, which includes 23 border crossings, 11 major truck gateways and 7 major rail gateways.

Supporters said the proposed free-trade zone would reduce trade barriers and create closer ties between Canada and the United States.

Unions fear workers’ rights would deteriorate

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which participated in the rally, said in a statement that the proposal could hurt workers because Atlantica would harmonize regulations "to create more labour market flexibility."

Ivy, the secretary-treasurer of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, told reporters she was concerned corporations could equate trade barriers with "workers’ rights, social protections and community-driven developments."

On Friday, a small group of protesters without passes tried to gain entry to the conference. In the scuffle that followed, three people were arrested.

Some protesters complained that decisions about Atlantica are going on "behind closed doors."

The arrests happened just as the president of Irving Oil, Kenneth Irving, was about to deliver a speech at the conference, called Reaching Atlantica: Business Without Boundaries.

The conference was a joint initiative of the Atlantic Provinces Chambers of Commerce (APCC) and the Saint John Board of Trade.

source: CBC