Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Guess Who's Blocking Canada's Participation in the TPP [UPDATED]

Back when Japan announced that it was interested in joining the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations - which currently include the United States, current US FTA partners Australia, Chile, Peru, and Singapore, as well as new FTA partners Brunei, Malaysia, New Zealand and Vietnam - I noted that admitting the economic power and close US ally was a no-brainer.  Certain TPP participants (and their political allies at home), however, weren't so gung-ho about Japan's inclusion in the agreement, and Japan has its own internal politics to sort out, so our friends in Tokyo are still waiting around to see if they're on the TPP VIP Guest List.  Joining Japan on the wrong side of TPP's velvet rope are Canada and Mexico, who announced their interest in joining the agreement shortly after Japan.  Readers of this blog know my affinity for the Harper Government's pro-market, pro-trade reforms over the last few years, so of course I think that Canada's inclusion in the TPP would be a very welcome development.

Unfortunately, however, it appears that certain members of the Obama administration don't agree, and thus the United States might just be the last holdout on Canada's TPP participation.  My source for this juicy gossip, you ask?  Well, none other than PM Harper himself:
Harper sat down with Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderón for their first such meeting in almost two years -- and the last before Calderón leaves office this fall -- and for all the jovial friendship on display for the cameras in the Rose Garden, some issues clearly rankled.

The meeting, which came up considerably short of the advertised three hours, ended without Canada getting an invitation to join negotiations for a new Trans-Pacific Partnership....

Canada's system of supply-management of eggs, milk and other farm products is seen as a stumbling block to participation in the new free-trade zone.

In scripted remarks, Harper emerged from the meeting to say he was "especially pleased" Obama had welcomed Canada's interest in the trade talks.

But he later pointed the finger squarely at the White House for holding up Canada's formal inclusion. "Our strong sense is that most of the members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership would like to see Canada join," Harper told an audience at the Woodrow Wilson Center. "I think there's some debate, particularly within the (Obama)  administration, about the merits of that."

For his part, Obama did not duck a question that specifically asked if Canada's dairy and egg marketing boards would have to go in order for Canada to join the party.

"Every country that's participating is going to have to make some modification," Obama said, flanked by Harper and Calderón at a news conference in the Rose Garden. "That's inherent in the process because each of our countries has their own idiosyncrasies, certain industries that in the past have been protected."

The prime minister did not answer a direct question on whether he was prepared to abandon the marketing boards, but said his government would do what is needed to protect industries. "Canada will attempt to promote and to defend Canada's interests, not just across the economy but in individual sectors as well," said Harper.
Although some of Canada's agriculture policies are undoubtedly suspect, the idea that its marketing boards - which have been in place for several decades and haven't impeded NAFTA (as a new IBD editorial helpfully notes) - are preventing the United States - one of the largest agriculture-subsidizers on the planet - from signing off on Canada's TPP participation is laughable.  The laughs get even louder when one considers that the "too protectionist" Canada has been unilaterally opening large swaths of its market to imports, while the "free trade" Obama administration has been working hard, in FTA negotiations and via US trade law, to keep ours closed (and to keep those US farm subsidies firmly in place).  Or when one considers the Obama administration's long history of playing the "you're too protectionist on issue [X]" card to justify FTA-related delays (just ask South Korea or, as noted above, Japan).

Then again, if I were in the White House (stop laughing) and had to choose between (1) admitting into the TPP the unilaterally-liberalizing, corporate tax-cutting, FTA-completing Harper Government (and its directly-competitive Canadian farmers, manufacturers and service providers), or (2) just making up some silly "protectionist" excuse in order to stall Canada's admission and cover for my own government's trade/tax policy ineptitude, I'd probably be pretty darn tempted to choose Door #2 too.

Of course, if I were in the White House (seriously, stop laughing), the United States wouldn't be in this embarrassing position to begin with.

UPDATE: A reader passes along this great 2010 op-ed from Peter Clark on the United States, ahem, recalcitrance re: Canada's admission to the TPP.  Clark focuses on one reason for the White House's exasperating Canada-TPP position that I glossed over last night but deserves direct mention: rampant US mercantilism.  US exports already have mostly-duty-free access to the Canadian market through NAFTA, and, as mentioned above, if Canada is allowed into the TPP, competitive Canadian exporters would gain equal footing with their US counterparts in the rapidly-developing, high-demand TPP (especially Asian) markets.  Clark further notes that Canada would likely not support the United States' mercantilist push to retain all the sweet, sweet carveouts and import protection that are embedded in its existing FTAs with TPP participants like Australia.  His arguments seems quite logical - and depressing - to me.  Alas.  (Clark raises other issues in another good, detailed op-ed from earlier this year.)

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