APEC Summit: Canada On Sidelines As U.S. Presses Ahead With Key Partnership
HONOLULU, Hawaii - It's a trade deal being heralded as a model for the economic future, but Canada won't let go of its economic past to become a member.
Nine Pacific rim nations agreed Saturday to forge ahead with a new trade bloc that will fast-track trade between some of the most lucrative and potentially lucrative economies in the world.
"The (Trans Pacific Partnership) will boost our economies, lowering barriers to trade and investment, increasing exports, and creating more jobs for our people," U.S. President Barack Obama said in announcing the new framework ahead of the start of the formal APEC leader summit in Hawaii on Saturday.
But that won't be the case for Canada.
While Canada would like to be part of the TPP, it doesn't agree with the cost of membership, particularly the suggestion that it needs to signal a willingness to abandon decades-old supply management policies, International Trade Minister Ed Fast said Saturday.
"There has been some resistance and suggestions that we should be pre-negotiating our entry to the Trans Pacific partnership," Fast said.
"We have made it very clear that Canada will not pre-negotiate, we believe all of those issues should be discussed at the negotiating table."
Nor does Canada feel it needs to exchange farmers' interests for the greater economic interest, Fast said.
"We have free trade agreements with 14 countries, in each case we have been able to negotiate agreements that are acceptable and that allow us to continue to support our supply management system," he said.
Supply management policies for Canada's dairy, egg and poultry products have been in place for over 40 years to protect them from foreign competition via quotas and tariff controls.
The system has fallen out of favour internationally as it's believed to keep prices artificially high and restrict innovation.
But the Conservative government has been steadfast in its commitment to the affected farmers, the vast majority of whom live in Ontario and Quebec.
Fast wouldn't say who is resisting having Canada at the TPP talks, but one observer said Canada doesn't need to look very far.
"Washington has no interests in structuring a deal which will see their benefits diluted by Canada being on the same footing as U.S. exporters," said Peter Clark, a former Canadian trade negotiator.
Clark said there are other issues at play.
"The reason that we could not get to the table had much more to do with U.S. demands that we commit to liberalize in a number of other areas, for example delaying the introduction of generic medicine, more intrusive protection of intellectual property rights by Canadian customs officers, foreign investment reviews and foreign ownership of telecoms providers," Clark said.
The end goal of the TPP is to expand it among all the 21 member economies of APEC.
There is little wiggle room when it comes to the terms of membership, said U.S Trade Representative Ron Kirk.
"I want to make it absolutely clear that not only Japan, but any of the other economies, once they decide to engage us, we would expect them to meet the standards to which we all collectively agree," he told reporters.
Japan has signalled an interest in being part of the talks and China hasn't ruled it out either.
Analysts say that in the absence of the TPP Canada needs to beef up bilateral relations in the Asia Pacific.
The government estimated that Canada’s trade with Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation economies grew from $374.6 billion in 1994 to $654.4 billion in 2010.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper held a series of bilateral meetings in advance of the broader APEC summit to continue to push forward with bilateral deals.
"Asia is already an important part of the growth we’ve had in trade and the creation of jobs in recent years and obviously we are looking at ways of increasing that in the future," Harper said at a briefing early Saturday morning.
He sat down with the leaders of Indonesia, Chile and Peru.
Following his meeting with Peru, Harper announced Canada would contribute $4.8 million over four years towards a U.N. conflict prevention program that works in the South American country on issues that arise over natural resources.
Harper also announced an expansion of a science and technology development partnership with China.
His 30 minute meeting with the Chinese President was Harper's most formal bilateral of the day.
"You have repeatedly stated that you attach importance to our relationship and that you hope to forge an even closer relationship with China," Jintao told Harper through a translator.
"I appreciate that position."
Harper is also set to meet one-on-one with Obama on Sunday after the APEC summit wraps.
The two were originally meant to participate in the North American leaders summit with Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Sunday night.
But Calderon pulled out of the meetings after his interior minister was killed Friday in a helicopter crash.