Trudeau weighs trade deal, Pacific leaders left hanging
The resurrected Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, championed by Malcolm Turnbull, was in limbo last night after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau failed to turn up for a crucial final leaders’ meeting in Vietnam.
The Australian side, understood to be furious over the development, believes the Canadians “screwed everybody” with their undiplomatic gesture that was seen as deeply embarrassing for the APEC host country.
“It’s less than ideal to have every leader and trade minister from the other 10 countries sitting around the table and not have Canada there,’’ Australian Trade Minister Steve Ciobo said. “It’s not an ideal outcome.’’ Mr Turnbull later met Mr Trudeau on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Da Nang.
After hopes of announcing a breakthrough for the TPP 11, following a decision by the 11 countries’ trade ministers to reach a “substantial conclusion”, the trade partnership was not finalised.
Moves by the Turnbull government to champion the deal were in stark contrast to US President Donald Trump’s rhetoric on trade.
In a fiery speech to the conference, Mr Trump vowed to take action against China’s “chronic trade abuses” and declared a new “Indo-Pacific dream” of “fair and reciprocal” trade.
Trade ministers from the 11 countries involved in the TPP reached the agreement early yesterday but it required sign-off from their nation’s leaders.
TPP 11 leaders, seated at one table, were left fuming when Canada failed to attend and were told the country had asked for lastminute exemptions to the deal.
“Trade ministers have reached a substantial conclusion on the TPP 11. We’ve made recommendations to leaders for their consideration and I am very hopeful that we will have the leaders’ agreement,” Mr Ciobo said.
The agreement was almost derailed earlier this year when Mr Trump pulled the US out of what was to have been a 12-nation deal. The TPP 11 includes Japan, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Vietnam, Canada, Mexico, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, and Singapore.
While Mr Ciobo said the deal was “not strategic”, some experts have pointed to China’s absence from the agreement to argue it forms a Pacific trading bloc in opposition to the superpower.
The Weekend Australian understands there were at least four sticking points that will now have to be resolved before the deal is formally signed. Government sources said these included issues relating to Malaysian state-owned enterprises and labour conditions in Vietnam. The Turnbull government was understood to be content with a number of so-called “freezes” on certain clauses in the original agreement sought by countries after the US pulled out. They included one preventing competing versions of new drugs from entering the market for a certain period of time, which mainly benefited US pharma companies.
These were to be kept in the agreement in order to entice the US to consider joining in the future. But Mr Trump’s APEC speech was likely to dampen hopes this would occur under his leadership. Under the Obama administration, the US had insisted on provisions to lift labour standards in Vietnam and for the state to allow independent unions.
The agreement, if signed, would function as a new deal to the original TPP that included the US, and would have to pass national parliaments before coming into force. There remained no clear timeline for the remaining issues to be resolved.
Christine Forster struggles through protesters outside a fundraiser for her brother Tony Abbott in Sydney last night