TPP back on with new name, Canada apparently back on board
By Pattrick Smellie
Nov. 11 (BusinessDesk) - The on-again-off-again revival of the Trans-Pacific Partnership is back on after a confusing 12 hours in which Canada appeared to have walked away from the deal, but returned to the negotiating table claiming “a misunderstanding”.
Briefing New Zealand media ahead of the APEC Leaders’ Retreat in Da Nang, Viet Nam, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said : “I wouldn’t want to speculate but I think probably we’re in a more stable place than we were yesterday.”
Asked whether Canada was back in the tent and TPP was back on she said: “I would characterise it in that way, yes.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau threw the future of the so-called TPP-11 into doubt yesterday afternoon by failing to turn up to a meeting of leaders of the 11 countries still working towards a new Pacific Rim trade and investment deal that is as much geo-political as economic in its focus.
Japan has led revival of the pact since Donald Trump withdrew the US from TPP in his first act as president in January. Yesterday’s Trudeau no-show was a major loss of face of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
However, Japan and the APEC host, Viet Nam are now expected to issue a statement at 11 am local time giving an update on the renamed Comprehensive Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) in which just four outstanding areas of contention remain.
Among the most sensitive for Canada is understood to be protection for automobile production, while Viet Nam has been resistant to the pact’s insistence on minimum standards for labour and environmental practices.
Facing Canadian domestic political pressures similar to those faced by the New Zealand Labour-led government from the left of its support base, it appears Canada has pushed for the inclusion of the “comprehensive, progressive” wording to stress this is not an ‘old-style’ agreement focused only on trade.
New Zealand’s Trade and Export Growth Minister David Parker said the CPTPP’s “enforcement standards for labour laws and environmental standards and the right to regulate" were the strongest "that there has ever been in a trade agreement”.
“In that sense, it is a more comprehensive and progressive agreement than has ever been agreed in a major multi-lateral agreement before and it’s important to some, including Canada, that that be referenced in the renaming of the text because there’s some misunderstanding about that out in the public.”
Ardern said CPTPP was “a different deal than what was being negotiated at the time that the United States were at the table … not least because there have been some suspended clauses which were important to NZ in particular.”
However, prominent anti-TPP campaigner, Jane Kelsey from The University of Auckland law school, said in a statement based on a leaked text of today's progress statement that she was “‘disappointed, but not surprised" that the Labour government had largely endorsed the TPP agreement signed up to by the previous National Party-led government "with the suspension of a limited range of items”.
She released a leaked version of the leaders’ statement expected this morning in Viet Nam, saying “the US and its companies will get large benefits for no price”.
The US remains outside the agreement, at least during a Trump presidency, but negotiators hope the world’s largest economy will rejoin a trade bloc that Japan has championed in part because it represents a bulwark against rising Chinese geo-political influence.
Ardern raised eyebrows among some TPP leaders by her frank, early admission to media travelling with her yesterday that the TPP leaders’ meeting had failed.
Australian ministers initially attempted to play down the Canadian no-show before officials briefed their travelling media that there was anger at the Canadian performance.
Canadian media reported a defensive stance from Trudeau’s contingent, who sought to characterise the no-show as a “misunderstanding” about the schedule and the intention to try to conclude a way forward on TPP at Da Nang. Canadian press reports said the meeting “did not happen” and that New Zealand and Australian media reports were “blaming” Canada for the breakdown.
Trade ministers reconvened overnight while APEC leaders attended the traditional leaders’ banquet, where Ardern said she exchanged pleasantries with Trump, including a “standard” handshake, a reference to the president's penchant for extended gripping with counterparts.
She was seated at the dinner with Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but did not directly discuss the plight of Rohingya Muslim refugees who have been subject to ethnic cleansing by the Burmese military, which holds the key to her political position as State Counsellor, akin to prime minister status.
Ardern said she had discussed her constitutional relationship with the Burmese military.
Trudeau is reported to have had “very direct” talks with Aung San Suu Kyi about the human rights abuses against the Rohingya yesterday while at APEC.