BUSINESS
11/11/2011 04:00 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

APEC Hawaii Summit: Canada Remains Offside On New Asia-Pacific Trade Deal

OTTAWA - Leaders of 21 global economies, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, are on their way to Hawaii for the next round of APEC meetings.

But while those talks focus on the nitty gritty of ensuring easier trade between Asia Pacific nations, Harper won't be part of discussions by a smaller group of nations in the region which are pushing ahead with a much more focused free-trade plan.

Still, a former Canadian diplomat says the broader Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation forum can't be discounted, even if decisions made there aren't always headline grabbers.

"APEC has tried to find ways to bridge the interests of a country like Canada, which is fully advanced with countries, whose economies are much less advanced," said Joseph Caron, who served as Canada`s senior APEC official in 1998, as well as ambassador to China and Japan in the 2000s.

"What you have is collaboration on development of a common language on the things like customs procedures or security of goods transportation, all the nuts and bolts that have to be bolted together."

Harper left for the meetings at mid-day, after attending Remembrance Day ceremonies at the National War Memorial in Ottawa.

The forum was conceived in late 1980s and set a goal of free trade in the region by 2020 to form a counterpoint to the regional trading power of the European countries.

And with that European bloc's precarious financial situation, APEC talks in Hawaii this week are seen as a way to restore some confidence that the global economy is not all doom and gloom as economies in the Pacific rim do continue to grow.

Pacific Rim finance ministers pledged Thursday to take decisive action if necessary to prevent the spillover from Europe’s financial woes from further undermining growth and financial stability across the region.

The government debt crisis in Europe remains the central challenge to global growth, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said ahead of the summit.

"It is crucial that Europe move quickly to put in place a strong plan to restore financial stability," Geithner said. "They’re moving ahead, but we just need them to move ahead more quickly and with more force behind it."

"Our goal for the meetings is to build a commitment for practical policies that will strengthen the global recovery," Charles Collyns, the U.S. Treasury assistant secretary for international finance, told reporters at a briefing earlier this week to preview the meetings.

"The dynamic emerging markets must play a bigger role in bolstering global growth," he said.

But the smaller Trans Pacific Partnership process happening on the sides is equally important, Caron suggested.

The U.S., Australia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Peru are negotiating to join the TPP bloc, which already brings together the smaller economies of Chile, New Zealand, Brunei and Singapore.

While APEC has a long-term deadline to achieve free trade between member nations, it's not a coercive body so its deals move at the speed of the slowest member, Caron pointed out.

The TPP seeks to speed up the process for nations ready to act and currently, Canada is an odd country out.

Canadian officials say they're not sure they want to be a part of the new club as it may not advance national interests, but observers say Canada is being deliberately shut out because of supply management policies.

Canada needs to weigh the cost versus benefits of being a TPP member and at the very least, make sure it has a seat at the table, Caron said.

"For Canada not to be part of the most dynamic part of the world through a variety of instruments, including potentially this one ... getting an understanding of what all the participating countries interests are, and where that's all headed, this is all crucial to Canada's future," he said.

— with files from The Associated Press