Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Good News: Canada Joins the TPP, But At What Price?

As expected, the US and Canadian governments announced today that Canada would join the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.  (To get caught up, Peter Clark has some great backstory on the recent machinations.)  First up with the good news was Canadian PM Harper:
Opening new markets and creating new business opportunities leads to jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for all Canadians," said Prime Minister Harper in a statement about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

"A TPP agreement will enhance trade in the Asia-Pacific region and will provide greater economic opportunity for Canadians and Canadian businesses."
Then USTR made its formal announcement:
President Obama announced today that the United States and the eight other countries negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement have extended an invitation to Canada to join the TPP negotiations, pending successful conclusion of domestic procedures. In addition to the United States, the current TPP countries are Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.

“Inviting Canada to join the TPP negotiations presents a unique opportunity for the United States to build upon this already dynamic trading relationship. Through TPP, we are bringing the relationship with our largest trading partner into the 21st century,” said Ambassador Kirk. “We look forward to continuing consultations with the Congress and domestic stakeholders regarding Canada’s entry into the TPP as we move closer to a broad-based, high-standard trade agreement in the Asia-Pacific region.”

Next steps will parallel those for Mexico, which was also invited to join the TPP negotiations yesterday. The Administration will shortly notify Congress of our intent to include Canada in the TPP negotiations. The notification will trigger a 90-day consultation period with Congress on U.S. negotiating objectives with respect to Canada. We also will publish a notice in the Federal Register seeking public comments.
As I said last night, the addition of the conservative, (mostly) free-market Harper government to the TPP negotiations is undoubtedly a good thing for proponents of of trade liberalization in both countries.  Hopefully its participation will reinvigorate the flagging talks and encourage more countries to jump on the TPP bandwagon.  And, as Heritage's Derek Scissors noted yesterday, Mexico's inclusion is also a very good thing - an important point that I unfortunately neglected to mention in my rush to get into the weeds of the NAFTA partners' negotiating status.  

Speaking of that status, while the benefits of adding Mexico and Canada are clear, what isn't clear at this stage is precisely what Canada conceded to the United States in order to finally - finally - get Washington to sign off on its Northern neighbor's TPP participation.  The Obama administration told Inside US Trade [$] that Mexico (and presumably Canada) would not be able to participate in any way - not even as an observer - until the full 90-day period for congressional consultations had expired, essentially meaning that neither party will join any TPP talks until mid-September or so.

But once they get the all-clear on that front, will there be any limitations on their participation?

As I noted yesterday, the Obama administration last Friday allegedly asked both Canada and Mexico to agree to some pretty onerous procedural conditions before it would agree to let them join the TPP - essentially demoting the Canadians and Mexicans to "second-class" participants.  However, before today's big announcement, Harper surrogatesmade clear that they would in no way accept such a demotion:
Canada and Mexico were told they could join if they agreed to several conditions that ensured new entrants didn’t slow down negotiations. Canada and Mexico could not reopen any agreements already reached among current TPP partner countries – unless these nations agreed to revisit them. And the two nations would not have “veto authority” over what was agreed upon by the original members.

Both countries were also supposed to agree to this before they’d even seen the latest version of negotiating texts.

A Canadian official said Monday there was no way Canada would agree to be a junior, or second-class, member at the talks.
So what exactly did they agree to?  I honestly have no idea, nor do others who are watching Canada's TPP participation very closely.  And when asked about what Canada gave up to join the talks, PM Harper and other Canadian officials weren't entirely clear:
Harper said there were no conditions attached to Canada's entry to the TPP talks when asked if he would put supply management on the negotiating table.

"Canada has not agreed to any specific measures in terms of an eventual Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement," he said.

"Canada aims, whenever it gets into a trade negotiations, to promote and to protect all of its interests across all the range of industries ... and Canada's record in terms of dealing with those particular issues in trade negotiations under our government has been very strong and that will continue to be our position," he said.

He said Canada would not seek to undo any progress already made by existing TPP partners and that the negotiations were in very preliminary stages. "As in any negotiations, nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to by all parties."

Canada's accession to the TPP will take a period of time, he said, without giving details....

Gerald Ked, parliamentary secretary to the minister of international trade, reaffirmed on Tuesday that Canada did not give anything away to be part of the talks.
Sounds strong, right?  Well, Harper and Ked appear to be talking mainly about substance (in particular Canada's controversial system of agricultural supply management), not about process (in particular whether Canada is a "full" TPP participant will the same procedural rights as all other countries).  On that front, the Canadians' strong statements are, well, less strong, although Harper is most definitely correct that the agreement is far, far from finished, so Canada's agreement not to harm completed FTA chapters is a very minor concession.

I'm sure that we'll find out about these details in due time.  In the meantime, let's celebrate Canada's and Mexico's entry into the TPP - it was a long and arduous path that required a lot of hard diplomatic work from both US allies (unfortunately).

Now if only we can get Japan on board.

(I know, I know, best to quit tonight while I'm still in a good mood.)

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