OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper heads to Hawaii this week hoping that the so-called Aloha APEC summit will mean hello to freer trade with growing Asian economies, even as Canada may be told goodbye when it comes to a tighter trade pact for the region.
The meetings in Hawaii come after tense G20 talks in Europe and will seek to warm up chilly perspectives of the global economy by focusing on growth in the Asia Pacific region instead.
But the summit spotlight will be shared with talks on the sidelines by the U.S. and other Pacific Rim nations negotiating a new trade bloc called the Trans Pacific Partnership. Proponents of the TPP say it is more efficient and more likely to deliver results than the plodding and unwieldy APEC.
But Canada's absence from those talks doesn't mean it's not a player in the region, officials said Thursday.
"Asia Pacific in general is an increasingly an area that drives global economic growth. It's one that Canada needs to be at the table at to enhance the interests of Canadian business to make sure we are demonstrating our economic competitiveness in that region," said Harper spokeswoman Sara MacIntyre at a briefing Thursday in advance of the meetings.
Observers have suggested Canada is not welcome in the new club because of supply management policies which block agricultural industries from foreign competition. MacIntyre says Canada hasn't decided whether it wants to even be part of the TPP as it may not be in the country's best interests.
The U.S., Australia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Peru are negotiating to join the bloc, which already brings together the smaller economies of Chile, New Zealand, Brunei and Singapore.
Officials wouldn't say whether Canada would be negotiating behind the scenes at APEC to get back at that table, though Harper is expected to have a series of bilateral trade meetings on Saturday where the issue could be broached.
But the overall value of the broader APEC organization remains, a foreign affairs official said.
The gathering of the 21 member economies gives them a chance to drill past the loftier goals set at summits like the G20, the official said, and work together on the regulations that can make freer trade a reality.
"APEC provides the meat," said the official, who cannot be named as he was only authorized to speak on background.
As the Asian economies grow in importance, Canada must keep a focus on rights issues as part of economic talks, said NDP MP Peter Julian.
"What we want to see is a balanced approached on trade through APEC or through discussions that come out of APEC and that includes environmental and labour standards that are strong," Julian said.
The ink won't even be dry on the final declaration from APEC when Harper heads into the second part of his trip — a meeting between himself, U.S. President Barack Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon.
The sixth North American Leaders Summit will also focus on continental economic issues as well as security.
Currently, Canada and the U.S. are working towards a perimeter security deal but MacIntyre said it would not be part of the talks between the three leaders.
Officials wouldn't say whether Harper will meet alone with Obama to discuss the security pact or the more pressing issue of the Keystone pipeline project.
The U.S. State Department wants TransCanada to explore rerouting its proposed Keystone XL pipeline, a decision that will delay the controversial $7-billion project for more than a year, and threatens to kill it outright.