In June 2016, I appeared at one of the government’s public town hall meetings on the TPP. Alongside then-International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland (now Global Affairs minister), C.D. Howe’s Daniel Schwanen, and Unifor’s Jerry Dias, I had the chance to raise concerns with the TPP’s IP and e-commerce provisions and then hear from dozens of people who raised a wide range of issues. The town hall was part of a broad public consultation that was frequently derided by critics as a stalling tactic, yet the impact of the consultation was felt with yesterday’s announcement of a deal on a slightly re-worked TPP that includes suspension of many of the most controversial IP provisions.
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While the NAFTA negotiations in Montreal were expected to be the lead trade story this week, the Trans Pacific Partnership talks in Tokyo have stolen the show with the remaining 11 countries reaching agreement on a deal that is likely to be signed in March. Canada faced intense criticism last year from some TPP partners (particularly Japan and Australia) over its demands to address concerns with the agreement. That sparked some Canadian business groups to quickly call on the government to simply cave in order to conclude a deal. Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne rightly argued that capitulation is not a negotiating strategy and they now come away with an improved (albeit still flawed) agreement.
In one of his first acts in office, U.S. President Donald Trump has signed an executive order withdrawing the United States from the Trans Pacific Partnership. With the U.S. out of the TPP, the agreement cannot take effect as it requires ratification from both the U.S. and Japan to do so. Last week, new International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said that Canada would consider all its options with the remaining TPP countries, but the reality is that Canada should follow the U.S. lead and abandon the agreement.
The need for U.S. and Japanese ratification for the TPP to take effect is no accident. For most of the countries in the TPP, access to those two markets were the reason they were willing to sign in the first place. For example, Canada came late to the TPP negotiations in part because it saw limited value in better access to markets such as Australia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and New Zealand. Trade with those countries is relatively minor and would not justify making significant policy concessions. The decision to join the negotiations was sparked by concern that preferential access to the U.S. would be undermined if Canada was left out of the TPP and by a desire to strike a trade agreement with Japan. Once Japan shifted its focus from bi-lateral discussions to the TPP, Canada pushed for inclusion in the deal. With the U.S. out, one of the foundational arguments for joining the TPP is gone.