No Longer ‘It’ in the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s Game of Marco Polo
Posted on Jun 21, 2012 / Author: Nabila Pirani / Tags: Politics, Policy and Diplomacy, Global Economy, Human Rights and Development, Education, Culture and Communities, Energy, Natural Resources and the Environment, free trade, Trans-Pacific Partnership
After months of backroom negotiations, jet-setting around the Asia-Pacific, consultations with various stakeholders, and much more, Canada has finally been invited to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. PM Harper, who sent his Chief of Staff Nigel Wright to Washington for last-minute talks, even let out a smile when speaking about the TPP at his otherwise staid G20 press conference.
But Canada’s entry into the now-658 million people strong trading bloc isn’t a done deal - yet. Before Ottawa can join the formal process, Canada’s admission must be officially approved by the nine existing TPP members (Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States, and Vietnam). While this isn’t being perceived as a stumbling block to Canada’s accession to the negotiation process, it does represent a significant delay to Canada’s pulling up a seat at the table. The Americans have a stipulation that negotiations with any country can only commence after Congress’ mandatory 90-day consultation process has concluded.
It’s unlikely, therefore, that Canada will be able to participate in negotiations before the fall. By then, at least 12 rounds of formal TPP talks will have already been held. Only those intimately involved with the negotiation process know how much of the agreement will have been finalized by then.
With Canada joining so late in the game (although, PM Harper has said he thinks the process isn’t as far along as it may seem), it’s this issue that’s the most disconcerting. Reports suggest that Canada may be forced to accept already-negotiated chapters of the agreement without much discussion, if any. Canada’s negotiating capacity vis-à-vis the other nine members is also still unclear.
As such, once all the initial hullaballoo dies down, it’ll be time for some serious introspection on the TPP and its effects on Canada. While admission into this trading bloc will certainly signify Canada’s ever-increasing entrenchment within the Asia-Pacific’s evolving political and economic architectures, questions regarding Canada’s relationships with non-TPP member Asian economies will weigh heavily on policy makers’ minds.
It has been suggested that the TPP is being designed to deliberately exclude China. If this is indeed the case, how will Canada’s inclusion in the trading bloc impact Ottawa’s rapidly-changing and deepening relationship with Beijing? Perhaps as importantly, how will the TPP talks affect Canada’s on-going preferential trade negotiations with Asian economies such as India, Singapore, South Korea and Japan, and with the massive European Union?
On the domestic front, the big elephant – nay – cow in the room is supply management. As Yves Leduc of the Dairy Farmers of Canada said in his piece for our NCA Conversation on trade agreements, “In all trade agreements negotiated by Canada, the dairy and other supply managed sectors have been excluded from the application of certain provisions pertaining to market access.” While PM Harper has said that Canada did not make any concessions in order to join the TPP talks, it’s impossible to forget that dismantling the supply management system in our much-coveted dairy sector was once a condition to accession adamantly set-forth by New Zealand. This issue will, without doubt, come up in negotiations; it remains to be seen how it will play out domestically.
The good news is that Canada is no longer relying on acoustics to find the nine Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement negotiating countries. Through a combination of skill and luck, Ottawa has managed to gain one of the coveted ‘Polo’ spots. But as the newbie in the group, our role and position vis-à-vis the rest of the team, as well as our own strategies, still need to be determined. Doing so, with an appreciation of domestic and international implications, should be the government’s first priority.
For an explanation of the game “Marco Polo”, click here.
The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.