Canada no-show throws TPP's future into doubt
By Pattrick Smellie in Da Nang
Nov. 10 (BusinessDesk) - Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has failed to turn up to a crucial meeting of leaders of the 11 leaders of countries still signed up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, in Da Nang, Viet Nam, throwing into serious doubt the anticipated conclusion to negotiations of the stalled Pacific Rim trade and investment pact.
The future of the long-fought deal is unclear as the Da Nang negotiating session was seen by many of the 11 signatory nations as the final opportunity to revive the agreement, which lost the participation of the United States when Donald Trump withdrew from TPP in his first act as president in January.
However, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told New Zealand media in Da Nang that there was simply no information to go on as to Canada's position.
"We’d all be guessing at this point but it’s certainly fair to say that in the here and now, there’s been postponement," she said. "It’s difficult to say what position Canada will take from here. It’s a significantly different deal without Canada in it."
At this stage, there had been no discussion of taking TPP down to a 10-member agreement, she said.
"I cannot say whether or not they have formally withdrawn but I can say that they were not there. I can’t give you a clear indication of Canada’s final position because they were not there to convey that to us."
Trudeau is expected to come under heavy pressure from other TPP leaders at tonight's gala dinner for the 21 leaders of the APEC economies, who are meeting in Da Nang for their annual summit. However, he will find a friend in Trump, whose speech to an APEC CEOs' meeting here today stressed a preference for bi-lateral trade agreements rather than deals involving multiple countries which he said had failed the US, the world's largest economy.
However, Canadian ministers have said in recent days they are in no hurry to conclude TPP, which raises difficult conflicts for Canada as it faces efforts by the Trump administration to renegotiate or abandon the North American Free Trade Agreement, which is of far greater value today to Canada than the TPP might be in the future.
As the most protectionist of the developed economies involved in TPP, Canada has also faced significant opposition from its dairy and other agricultural producers, although access to the highly protected Japanese beef market is attractive.
Japanese leadership saw the so-called TPP-11 box on without the US, although the change of government in New Zealand saw the country once seen as the original champion of the deal becoming a problem as it sought to water down the investor state dispute settlement provisions that allow corporations to sue governments - an issue that has galvanised opposition to the TPP agreement.
In that sense, a TPP failure that is not caused by New Zealand is not a major political problem for the new New Zealand government, since it would be no worse than other countries left standing at the altar while facing no domestic backlash from political supporters who would see Ardern's support for TPP-11 as a retreat from Labour's anti-TPP rhetoric prior to the election.
"New Zealand was at the table because we had made good progress on the issues we were concerned about,"she said. "It was certainly our intent to see some level of conclusion.