TPP can't wait for Canada's October election, says Key
By Pattrick Smellie
Aug. 3 (BusinessDesk) - The conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations needs to occur before the Oct. 19 Canadian federal elections, says Prime Minister John Key, who is tipping the likelihood a further negotiating round "in the next two or three weeks" after last week's talks in Hawaii failed to land agreement on the contentious trade and investment pact.
"There is a finite window, I think, where if you can't complete the deal in that time, it becomes more difficult for the United States and others," said Key at his weekly post-Cabinet press conference. "You can't rule out ... intense negotiations and another meeting in the next two to three weeks."
Asked whether TPP had the luxury of waiting until after the Canadian elections, Key said: "No. I don't think so."
The fear among governments pushing the controversial TPP trade and investment pact is that if negotiations drift towards Christmas, TPP will be abandoned by the US as domestic political focus intensifies on next year's presidential elections. TPP is deeply opposed in the US, where workers and businesses fear job losses from opening up the American economy to competition in numerous areas, meaning momentum on unfinished talks is unlikely to be maintained in the run-up to a late 2016 presidential poll.
Canada faces a similar dilemma to the US, but with less capacity to influence the overall timing than the US. Prime Minister Stephen Harper faces strong political pressure from the heavily-subsidised Canadian dairy industry to keep protective barriers up against imports from dairy-producing countries like the US, New Zealand and Australia and is reluctant to cut a deal that could lose him support in the run-up to the Oct. 19 poll.
The weakness of the undisclosed deal on the table for dairy access was one of the reasons talks last week in Hawaii failed, when negotiators had been hoping it could bring the deal to a landing.
Involving 12 Pacific Rim countries, TPP covers not only a very wide range of goods and services, but seeks to impose a modernised set of investment rules in the region, in part because the US is seeking to reassert leadership in Asia-Pacific to counter the growing influence of China.
"In the end, there is only a window of opportunity which runs out in not too far away from now really for President Obama to get this done," said Key. "So I'm not sure you're going to have the luxury of saying you can wait till you're another year down the track because you're right in the middle of the US presidential nominations and the election, Australia's got an election next year. There's just never a perfect time when you're dealing with 12 countries."
The executive director of the New Zealand International Business Forum, Stephen Jacobi, wrote in the TPP Unwrapped blog today that "if negotiators and ministers can get together soon – hopefully before the end of the month – the momentum can be maintained and any backsliding from what was agreed in Maui can be prevented.
"The longer it takes to re-engage, the harder it becomes," he said. "The Canadian election ... is a complicating factor. Leaving the re-engagement until APEC until November would not be a good sign."
The Maui talks' failure gave New Zealanders "an opportunity to put more pressure on the government not to sign away our sovereignty," Labour Party leader Andrew Little. “New Zealand land, dairy and medicines are up for grabs in these negotiations. There has to be some meaningful gains for us in this."