WASHINGTON - An influential U.S. lawmaker has mused about excluding Canada from big international trade talks if it won't undo its supply-management system.
Paul Ryan said that if any of the countries in the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks won't agree to ambitious free-trade standards, it's better to finish the treaty without them.
The former vice-presidential candidate and current chairman of the House committee on ways and means specifically mentioned two countries in a speech Thursday: Japan and Canada.
"Canada has big restrictions on dairy, poultry, and egg products. Those have to go," he said in prepared remarks.
"And if any of the 12 countries currently in the talks think our standards are too high, well, I’d complete the agreement without them and invite them to join it later."
In that same speech, though, Ryan suggested the U.S. holds some responsibility for speeding up the talks. He said it's time to give the president fast-track authority to finish a deal.
The Canadian government is reluctant to complete negotiations without presidential fast-track authority, and Ryan's speech appeared to express sympathy for that position.
President Barack Obama wants Congress to grant him the authority to complete the agreement, in essence transferring some power over international treaties that belongs to Congress under the American Constitution.
Fast-track arrangements, like the one used in the NAFTA deal, allow the president to complete negotiations and hand the finished product back to Congress for a straight up-or-down vote.
Ryan conceded that countries might not want to make concessions now without fast-track — because anything they agree to could wind up being amended by 435 members of Congress.
"When the United States sits down at the negotiating table, every country at that table has to be able to trust us," Ryan's prepared text said.
"If our trading partners don't trust the administration — if they think it will make commitments that Congress will undo later — they won't make concessions. Why run the risk for no reason?
"On the other hand, once our trading partners know we're trustworthy ... they’ll be more willing to make concessions. That's why we have to pass (fast-track) before negotiations are complete."
Republicans, who now control Congress, are expected to hand Obama that authority. Democrats, who are divided on trade issues, were unwilling to do so when they had control.
The Republicans are believed to be planning a fast-track vote before the next round of negotiations in a month. And they hope for a deal sometime this year, before Washington gets swept up in the next presidential election.
The Canadian government played down Ryan's remarks.
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said he was very confident of a deal. He said he hoped the Americans would come back to the negotiating table with fast-track authority in the next couple of months.
In the meantime, he chalked up Ryan's comments as fair game.
"There's a lot of pushing and shoving when you get to these steps in negotiations," Ritz said during a trip to Washington.
"I think Mr. Ryan is roaring, and that's fine."