A quick fix?

The TPP, re­viled by Don­ald Trump, could still of­fer a so­lu­tion for NAFTA

Cape Breton Post - - Business - BY MIKE BLANCHFIELD

Don­ald Trump may have killed the 12-coun­try Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship, but ex­perts say parts of the mori­bund Pa­cific Rim trade pact could well be res­ur­rected in an up­graded North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment.

That’s one way, they say, to help bring the out­dated 23-year-old NAFTA up to the stan­dards of mod­ern era trade agree­ments - and to do so be­fore talks be­come com­pli­cated by a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in Mex­ico and U.S. con­gres­sional midterms.

Canada, Mex­ico and the U.S. were all orig­i­nally TPP coun­tries that viewed the new agree­ment as the pri­mary means to up­grade a long-stand­ing trade deal that was show­ing its age.

NAFTA was ne­go­ti­ated be­fore the on­set of the dig­i­tal age and e-com­merce, and be­fore labour and the en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion pro­vi­sions be­came reg­u­lar fea­tures of trade deals.

The al­ready com­pleted TPP chap­ters on those is­sues could be mod­i­fied or re­pur­posed in a new NAFTA up­grade, said An­drea van Vugt, the vice pres­i­dent for North Amer­i­can af­fairs with the Busi­ness Coun­cil of Canada.

“You can use the tem­plate, make some ad­just­ments and call it your own, and you’ve just ac­cel­er­ated the process,” said van Vugt, who served as a chief of staff in the trade depart­ment dur­ing the Stephen Harper-era of Con­ser­va­tive rule.

“You can eas­ily get this done within the time frame that they’re work­ing with, which is the Mex­i­can elec­tion and the U.S. midterms.”

Trump has pledged to scrap NAFTA if it can’t be rene­go­ti­ated to his sat­is­fac­tion. But the po­lit­i­cal clock is tick­ing against a com­pre­hen­sive re­tool­ing of NAFTA be­cause Mex­i­can elec­tions are tak­ing place next year, and U.S. midterms will soon fol­low.

That has the U.S. and Mex­ico and hop­ing for a deal by early 2018, but many other ex­perts say that won’t be pos­si­ble be­cause of the in­her­ent com­plex­i­ties of trade ne­go­ti­a­tions. Canada, mean­while, says it is ready to come to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble when called, but is show­ing no signs of be­ing in any par­tic­u­lar hurry.

Some ex­perts ar­gue that parts of the TPP can be in­cor­po­rated in a way that could be palat­able and face-sav­ing for Trump. He has called the TPP a “dis­as­ter,” and pulled the U.S. out of the deal on his first day in of­fice, say­ing it was bad for Amer­i­can work­ers.

“It’s po­lit­i­cally risky for Trump to say that he’s go­ing to use the TPP as a model. I don’t think he could do that ex­plic­itly,” said Laura Macdon­ald, a Car­leton Univer­sity ex­pert on Canada-Mex­ico rela- tions.

“But I think be­hind the scenes they’ll be look­ing at what all three coun­tries had agreed to un­der the TPP. In some ar­eas, that’s go­ing to work bet­ter than oth­ers.”

Macdon­ald said progress could be made on up­dat­ing e-com­merce and other sec­tors that were over­looked by NAFTA, as well as up­grad­ing labour pro­tec­tions into the treaty’s main text from its side deal sta­tus.

“There were a lot of re­ally good things in the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship that ... could eas­ily be im­ported over,” said David Messer, vice pres­i­dent of the In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy As­so­ci­a­tion of Canada.

That in­cludes pro­vi­sions that af­firm the un­fet­tered flow of data over In­ter­net, and the re­moval of visa re­stric­tions to al­low for greater mo­bil­ity of high-tech work­ers across bor­ders, he said.

For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land has steered clear of men­tion­ing TPP as a tem­plate for the NAFTA talks, but she re­cently sin­gled out the Canada-EU free trade deal as a pos­si­ble model.

“We have a great ex­pe­ri­ence in CETA with mod­ern­iz­ing labour and en­vi­ron­men­tal chap­ters and bring­ing those up to 21st stan­dards.”

How­ever, the TPP also in­cludes pro­vi­sions de­signed to re­solve dis­putes in­volv­ing work­ers’ rights and the en­vi­ron­ment.

Scott Sin­clair, se­nior re­searcher at the Cana­dian Cen­tre for Pol­icy Al­ter­na­tives, said it is “in­evitable that large parts of the TPP will resur­face in a NAFTA rene­go­ti­a­tion” but they fall far short of pro­vid­ing a speedy path to new agree­ment.

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