Secretive critical talks on the Trans Pacific Partnership happening in Ottawa

Secret TPP negotiations
The Council of Canadians outside the Delta Ottawa City Centre on July 7, 2014 to draw attention to the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership talks taking place inside. Photo: Ben Powless

Trans-Pacific Partnership talks began in Ottawa on Thursday, July 3 and will continue through to Saturday, July 12. At these negotiations are representatives of Canada, the United States, Japan, Australia, Chile, Brunei, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

If these 12 countries can reach agreement, it will be the largest 'trade' agreement to date encompassing about 40 per cent of the world economy.

Both the major players in these talks, the United States and Japan, which represent about 80 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product of the TPP, have stated their aim is to have a draft agreement by the end of the year. Japan's chief negotiator Koji Tsuruoka has stated, "I understand that this meeting in Ottawa will be a very important step to bring the TPP to the final stage towards the end of the year."

But almost nothing has been made public about these talks, including even the location. The Globe and Mail reports, "As of Thursday afternoon, federal officials were not disclosing where in the capital the meetings are taking place but sources say at least some talks are being held at the downtown Delta Ottawa City Centre."

Highlighting this concern, CBC reports, "The Council of Canadians, which calls itself a social-action organization, has suggested the process 'marks a new low point in transparency for an already secretive trade deal'. 'The Canadian government claims that 'interested stakeholders have an opportunity to provide their views related to Canada's interests in the TPP', but it won't release even the most basic information to allow for stakeholder access to negotiators as has happened at previous rounds', said Scott Harris, a trade campaigner for the group."

Claude Rochon, a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, will only say that, "This is a working-level technical meeting, held by the TPP negotiating leads and a small number of focused working groups, that meet as required to continue to advance negotiations." And Rudy Husny, director of communications for Trade Minister Ed Fast, says without detail that investment, intellectual property, state-owned enterprises and rules of origin that determine the source of products for customs purposes will be discussed.

So we are left to news reports to glean the state of play in these negotiations.

An Agence France Presse article notes the outstanding issues are Japanese farm tariffs and auto issues, while the Global Post says, "Japan is considering drastically reviewing tariffs on U.S. beef and pork, but it wants to introduce safeguard measures should imports of the products surge under the TPP, reported Japan's Kyodo News, citing sources involved in the talks." The Japan Times reports, "The officials are expected to focus on issues such as intellectual property rights, which concern the copyright of movies and patents for new medicines, and the reform of state-owned companies."

TPP proponent, Kate Heartfield, who is the Ottawa Citizens editorial pages editor, writes, "Canada can’t do anything about the potential for delays in the U.S. Congress or about Japan’s agricultural protectionism. It could show ambition and vision by setting out a plan to end supply management in dairy, poultry and eggs, which irks our trading partners because it effectively closes off much of Canada’s market to imports. If the government truly believes open borders are the future, it must know that supply management will die one day. So far, its strategy seems to be to kill it very slowly and hope no one notices until the death throes..."

And Stephen Cornish, the Executive Director of Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders Canada, highlights one of the concerns in the Ottawa Citizen this morning. He writes, "Leaked texts show the United States wants to extend patent and regulatory monopolies through the TPP, meaning it would take longer to access low-cost generic versions of new drugs. The newest treatments developed for AIDS and drug-resistant tuberculosis are already priced out of reach in the developing world."

While the draft agreement could be reached just four months from now, it is not known where the ministerial that would finalize the deal will take place.

For more, please read Council of Canadians trade campaigner Scott Harris' June 25 blog The TPP is coming to Canada (not that it's easy to tell).

Note: We're saying in a media release to be issued this morning, "In light of the Canadian government’s poor etiquette as hosts of the current round of Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, the Council of Canadians will offer some assistance to stakeholders, negotiators, media, and citizens. It hopes to alleviate confusion arising from the Canadian hosts' excessive secrecy. All are welcome to attend, but those with cameras may be especially interested in this photo opportunity." This will take place in front of the Delta Ottawa City Centre (101 Lyon St N) today at 12:30 pm.