WASHINGTON - The U.S. government says it's been pressing Canada to offer agricultural concessions in trade talks, without much success so far.
The administration's trade representative provided an update Thursday on negotiations toward a historic, 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
"On Canada, it's the only country in TPP that has not yet given us a market-access offer on agricultural issues like dairy and poultry," Michael Froman told a congressional panel.
"We are pressing them to do so. Because those are important priorities for us... We're addressing their priorities in a number of ways. And we want them to come to the table as part of an overall package."
Canada's supply-management system sets limits on the production and imports of certain products, potentially limiting choices and bargains for consumers while protecting farmers.
Canada has already promised to relax some of the import limits on European cheese in its recently concluded trade agreement with the EU, and the Americans appear to expect similar concessions.
In the U.S., Congress is responsible for approving trade deals. The Senate chamber has failed to provide the administration with so-called fast-track authority to get a deal, but lawmakers are being kept in the loop on negotiations.
Froman's appearance before a House committee contained only brief references to Canada — he was asked far more questions about major trade irritants with Japan, which have prompted questions about whether that country might be excluded from a deal.
But a New Jersey lawmaker did express concern about Canadian courts striking down patents for U.S. pharmaceuticals in what he called an abusive interpretation of patent laws.
"Those decisions in Canada in recent years ... go against our neighbour's international commitments," said Rep. Bill Pascrell.
"Canadian courts have ruled that certain pharmaceutical patents — including many belonging to companies in my home state of New Jersey — are invalid due to what I believe to be an inappropriate interpretation of international patent standards.
"This policy is designed to benefit their manufacturers at the expense of our own."
Froman said protection of patents was before the courts in both countries, and was also being addressed at the bargaining table: "It's something we're monitoring very closely — it's part of TPP as well."
At one point, another congressman applauded Canada for taking steps to protect film copyright with anti-camcording laws and expressed hope that other countries in the partnership might adopt similar measures.