Allies protest the TPP and fast-track authority outside the White House. Photo by Ellen Davidson.
It appears that the conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “free trade” deal has been stalled over the issue of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), also known as fast-track authority, in the United States. That in turn could also be delaying progress on the proposed Canada-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (CJEPA).
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a proposed agreement among twelve countries, including Canada, the United States and Japan, that contains the usual provisions we oppose in “free trade’ agreements. That includes the controversial investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provision that allows corporations to sue national governments for lost profits resulting from public interest legislation in a secretive tribunal process outside of the normal judicial system, as well as intellectual property provisions that extend the patent period and profits for transnational pharmaceutical corporations and delay the introduction of lower cost generic drugs.
The TPP ministerial that was supposed to take place starting tomorrow (May 26) in Guam has been cancelled because the Trade Promotion Authority, which would give the U.S. president the ability to conclude trade agreements without facing amendments by the U.S. Congress, has not been secured. Chile’s deputy trade minister says that “most of the countries” at the TPP negotiating table objected to ministerial-level discussions without the assurance of fast-track legislation in the United States.
As of yesterday (May 24) no new date had been set for the next Trans Pacific Partnership ministerial.
And if TPP negotiators are insisting on TPA before concluding the talks, they could be waiting for awhile. Although the U.S. Senate passed fast-track legislation on Friday (May 22). Dow Jones Newswires reports, “The fast-track bill faces a stern test in the House in June, where its fate is uncertain.” That’s because most Democrats and a block of Republicans oppose giving the president fast-track authority. It has also been argued that since this matter won’t go to the House of Representatives until June because of a Congressional recess, and because neither the Democrats or Republicans want it to be an issue in the presidential election, that TPA might not be approved until after January 2017.
Enter the Canada-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (CJEPA).
The Canadian Press reports, “An internal memo from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development says … Japan is more interested in the ongoing 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership talks [than the CJEPA]. …In March, 2014, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a free-trade deal with South Korea, touting it as a breakthrough in Asia and saying Japan was one of the main targets for the next big trade agreement. ..[But] the memo says Japan turned down two proposals by Canada to host an eighth round of talks in early 2015 and would prefer to see that happen after the next Trans-Pacific ministerial meeting.”
That sentiment is backed by comments last month by John Weekes, Canada’s former ambassador to the World Trade Organization. He wrote, “Unfortunately, Japanese negotiators see [the CJEPA talks] as a distraction as they focus on the [TPP] deal with the United States, which they consider much more important.”
So we appear to be at a crossroads.
New Zealand’s trade minister commented this weekend that the Trans-Pacific Partnership could be concluded “in the coming months”, while Mexico’s economy minister said, “Mexico is ready to wrap up negotiations”, and the US trade representative said, “We’re very much in the endgame”. Council of Canadians trade campaigner Sujata Dey has noted that the conclusion of the TPP could include two more ministerials. She says, “Some sources suggested with so many outstanding issues in the talks — ranging from rules of origin to intellectual property and state-owned enterprises — ministers are more likely to reach a mostly finalized ‘agreement in principle’ in their next meeting, leaving some technical details to be worked out. That could mean that at least another negotiating round of sorts would have to be held after the next TPP ministerial.”
This implies that a deal may be very close but that a lot rides on the dynamics relating to Congressional approval of fast-track authority and the outcome of the U.S. presidential election on Tuesday November 8, 2016.
For more on the Council of Canadians trade campaign, please click here.