The Standing Committee on International Trade released its long awaited report on the Trans Pacific Partnership yesterday, the result of months of hearings and public consultation. The TPP committee review represented the Liberal government’s most tangible mechanism to consult with the public on an agreement it did not negotiate and that suffered from a lack of transparency throughout the negotiation process. Along the way, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States and moved quickly to withdraw from the TPP. The resulting report is therefore anti-climatic, since the agreement is effectively dead.
Nevertheless, the 113 page report provides a record of the many witnesses that appeared before the committee and places all three political parties on the record. Much of the report identifies the controversial issues – intellectual property, dispute settlement, trade in services among them – and recounts the differing views. The report leaves little doubt about the public divide on the TPP, noting support from some (though not all) business groups and opposition from many public interest groups. For example, the report notes that the intellectual property chapter was among the issues most raised before the committee, particularly the patent provisions and copyright term extension. It highlights not only comments before the committee (including my own), but also briefs submitted to the committee, including one from the Girl Guides of Canada, who expressed concerns with copyright term extension.
As for the future, the committee effectively acknowledged that ratifying the TPP with the U.S. withdrawing makes no sense. The report states:
The Committee is aware that the Government could ratify the TPP, like Japan did earlier this year. That said, even after doing so, the TPP would possibly not enter into force. In that case, Canadian businesses would lack preferential access to Japan and certain other Asia-Pacific countries unless the Government concluded new trade or investment agreements with them.
As well, the Committee recognizes that the Government could provide Canadian businesses with preferential access to some Asia-Pacific countries through negotiating an FTA with some TPP countries; any such bilateral or regional agreement could be based on the text of the TPP. As of March 2017, it is not clear how many or which of the TPP signatories would want to negotiate such an FTA. The extent to which the text of such an FTA would resemble the text of the TPP, or whether it would include non-TPP countries, is not known.
The Committee believes that the Government should proactively pursue bilateral trade and investment agreements with one or more TPP countries. Regarding Japan, the Committee is aware that seven rounds of negotiations for a Canada–Japan economic partnership agreement (EPA) had occurred by 2014, although negotiations were suspended as a result of both countries participating in TPP negotiations. If the TPP does not enter into force, the Government should seek preferential access to Japan for Canadian businesses by engaging the Government of Japan in renewed EPA negotiations.
The Conservative supplemental opinion criticizes the government on trade, despite the fact that it was the Liberals and not the Conservatives that closed the CETA deal. On TPP, the party’s position seems to be to maintain support the TPP even without the U.S.:
Now with the United States having formally withdrawn from the TPP and over a year after signing the agreement, the Liberal government has still refused to take a position on an agreement that they know is in the best interest of Canadians. Japan has ratified the TPP and other remaining signatories like Australia, New Zealand and Vietnam have pledged to continue to pursue the TPP without the involvement of the United States. Accordingly, and in consideration of recent events surrounding the TPP, the CPC maintains our support for the agreement and we urge the Government of Canada to pursue a trade pact with the remaining signatories. Failure to do so will come at great cost to the Canadian economy.
Meanwhile, the NDP aggressively calls for a rejection of the TPP:
It’s difficult to believe that after a year of study, consultation and analysis, the Liberal government is still not prepared to reject the TPP. The NDP calls on the Government of Canada to formally withdraw from the TPP, and to pursue an alternative agenda for strengthening and deepening trade relations in the Asia-Pacific region.
Its recommendations also point to the need to disclose the health care costs associated with patent term extension and to ensure that the “Government of Canada defend intellectual property rights that benefit Canadian consumers and innovators in all future trade and investment agreement negotiations.”
In other words, the political parties now have three distinct positions on the TPP and Asia-Pacific trade. The Liberals want to pursue Asian trade without the TPP through bi-lateral agreements (most notably with Japan), the Conservatives want to stick with the TPP, and the NDP want to reject the deal. The reality is that the TPP is dead given that it cannot take effect without the U.S., but many of its provisions will live on. Indeed, with North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiation the next big trade issue on the Canadian agenda, the party TPP positions and concerns the committee heard on the agreement are likely to resurface again within the context of the upcoming NAFTA talks.