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NEWS: Canada reportedly set to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership

The Globe and Mail reports, “Since (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper announced Canada’s interest in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks last November (after Obama decided against the Keystone XL pipeline), (Trade Minister Ed) Fast has been travelling throughout the world to press TPP member countries for admittance.” But now, “Harper has parachuted in chief of staff Nigel Wright, a former Bay Street deal-maker, to help steer efforts aimed at winning U.S. approval for Canada to join talks on a trans-Pacific free-trade zone. It’s an unusual move given that Fast normally leads the file, and it speaks to the urgency of Canada’s desire to join the TPP talks. …Mr. Wright left a senior post at Onex Corp., one of Bay Street’s largest private-equity firms, to take the job in the PMO and has a wealth of business connections that he can draw upon.”

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is currently a nine-member Asia-Pacific free-trade proposal being negotiated among the United States, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Canada, Japan and Mexico are all seeking to join the TPP.

“Washington, a driving force behind the negotiations, had previously suggested in May its priority was getting a deal among the TPP’s existing nine members, not admitting new ones.” But, “Canadian business sources said Friday … they’ve been given a head’s up that Washington will give Canada its blessing to join the TPP as early as next week. …Canadian industry sources said Friday they believe the United States has now agreed to admit Canada, an important endorsement. An announcement could come at the Group of 20 meetings in Los Cabos, Mexico, that begin Monday. Most – but not all – of the countries in the trans-Pacific talks have okayed Canada’s entry and Washington’s assent would go a long way to ensuring the country is ultimately admitted.”

In early-March, Inside Trade had speculated that the final decision on Canada joining the negotiations wouldn’t be made until September.

“Canada has had to work hard to persuade the U.S. government that it can be relied upon to mount a staunch defence of intellectual property – from movies to TV shows to software – both within its own borders and in Trans-Pacific talks. The United States wants allies to fight heartily for strong intellectual property protection rules during discussions and has sought assurances from the Harper government that Canada will do so.”

The deal would reportedly eclipse the North American Free Trade Agreement in size and scope. The concerns that have been raised include: the loss or weakening of Canada’s supply management system; intellectual-property protections for drugs that would limit access to access to life-saving medicines; investor-state provisions that would allow companies to sue governments over rules to protect the environment; provisions on government procurement; and common regulations and rules of origin.

The Wall Street Journal has reported, “The nine countries are promoting it as a 21st-century trade deal that will seek to streamline supply chains, regulations and rules of origin across the region, as well as to facilitate trade of green and digital goods. …Concerns (have been raised) that the intellectual-property protections being proposed for drugs would limit access to access to life-saving medicines, and that some provisions would continue to allow companies to sue governments over rules to protect the environment.”

Postmedia News has reported, “Canada’s supply management system is on the table. A handful of countries in the TPP negotiations…have been resisting Canada’s entry into the group because of the Canadian supply management system that protects fewer than 20,000 dairy and poultry farmers behind a tariff wall and hands them production quotas. …The prime minister (says) Canada can ‘easily meet’ the broad strokes of the agreement … even if it means throwing into the mix a supply management system that forces Canadians to pay higher prices for products like milk, cheese, chicken and eggs.”

For more on the concerns related to public services, investment and procurement, please see Council of Canadians trade campaigner Stuart Trew’s blog at http://canadians.org/blog/?p=11930.

It is also notable that a Harper government media release related to the TPP issued in November 2011 stated, “The government has invested over $1.4 billion in the Asia-Pacific Gateway to improve and expand our ports and infrastructure… Examples include the construction of the four-lane South Fraser Perimeter Road along the Fraser River…”

Today’s Globe and Mail article notes, “The next round of TPP talks take place in San Diego in early July. It’s not certain whether Canada will be granted observer status for the meeting.” It has been previously reported that the nine TPP countries have agreed to complete the broad outlines of the agreement by next month, presumably at the San Diego talks.

The Council of Canadians is opposed to Canada joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership. To read our critique on this free trade pact, go to http://canadians.org/tpp.