Feds dis­miss re­ports of a deal as PM says ‘In no rush’ on TPP

National Post (Latest Edition) - - FINANCIAL POST - Andy Blatch­ford

HO CHI MINH CITY, VIET­NAM • Canada won’t be pres­sured into pre­ma­turely sign­ing a deal on the Trans- Pa­cific Part­ner­ship, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau said Thurs­day as his Lib­eral gov­ern­ment flatly de­nied me­dia re­ports of a “deal in prin­ci­ple” on the Pa­cific Rim trade pact.

The 11 re­main­ing TPP economies, in­clud­ing Canada, have been try­ing to sal­vage the deal af­ter U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump pulled out ear­lier this year.

But Trudeau’s re­marks, along with sig­nals from gov­ern­ment in­sid­ers, sug­gest the Lib­er­als — cur­rently pre­oc­cu­pied with res­cu­ing NAFTA — hope to avoid hur­ried com­mit­ments on the treaty dur­ing this week’s APEC meet­ings in Danang.

“We’re not go­ing to sign a deal just be­cause we feel pres­sured into a sign­ing a deal — we’re go­ing to make sure that it’s right for Canada and it’s right for the world,” Trudeau said dur­ing an arm­chair dis­cus­sion in front of 1,200 stu­dents at Ton Duc Thang Uni­ver­sity in Ho Chi Minh City.

“We’re in no rush to do that, so we’re go­ing to take our time and look care­fully at the ne­go­ti­a­tions.”

Trudeau is sched­uled to meet Fri­day in Danang with his coun­ter­parts from the other TPP coun­tries, where they will also take part in the Asia- Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion summit.

A me­dia re­port sur­faced Thurs­day cit­ing the Ja­panese econ­omy min­is­ter as say­ing that the pact’s re­main­ing coun­tries had agreed in prin­ci­ple on a way to pro­ceed with the TPP — a re­port that was quickly quashed by In­ter­na­tional Trade Min­is­ter François-Philippe Cham­pagne.

“De­spite re­ports, there is no agree­ment in prin­ci­ple on TPP,” Cham­pagne tweeted.

Trudeau, who in­sisted he’s a strong sup­porter of free trade as long as it benefits ev­ery­one, also gave a lengthy ex­pla­na­tion on why the up­dated TPP should con­tain more ro­bust pro­tec­tions for cul­ture through ex­emp­tions.

“Cul­ture is more than just an eco­nomic good,” he said. “When you look at cul­ture as just an­other eco­nomic box to be ticked off or filled, you’re not un­der­stand­ing how im­por­tant it is in shap­ing the iden­tity of a com­mu­nity and of a coun­try.”

Be­hind the scenes, Canada doesn’t want to charge ahead and sign the deal Fri­day just be­cause the lead­ers have all gath­ered in one spot, said a se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity due to the sen­si­tiv­ity of the mat­ter.

Canada wants more time be­cause of the still-un­known out­come of the rene­go­ti­a­tion of NAFTA, the of­fi­cial said.

Ot­tawa has been seek­ing changes to the TPP, or even an ex­emp­tion or side let­ter, to avoid in­ad­ver­tently harm­ing Canada, re­gard­less of the out­come from the NAFTA talks, said the of­fi­cial.

As an ex­am­ple, the of­fi­cial noted Canada’s unique sit­u­a­tion of hav­ing a deeply in­te­grated auto- sup­ply chain with an­other coun­try. Auto parts can cross the U. S.- Canada bor­der a half­dozen times be­fore they are in­stalled into a ve­hi­cle and, there­fore, more changes might be needed to the TPP’s rules-of-ori­gin thresh­olds.

Canada has also been try­ing put its mark on TPP by push­ing its part­ners to in- clude “pro­gres­sive” chap­ters on the en­vi­ron­ment, gen­der equal­ity and labour rights.

The of­fi­cial said the coun­tries should take more time to get the whole deal right — and to raise the bar.

Trump, the of­fi­cial added, only pulled out of the Pa­cific Rim deal about 10 months ago, while the first dis­cus­sion by the re­main­ing coun­tries’ of­fi­cials on how to re­shape a post- U. S. TPP only hap­pened five months ago.

Aus­tralia, Ja­pan and Sin­ga­pore had al­ready ratif i ed t he TPP and, af­ter Trump with­drew, the of­fi­cial said they were urg­ing the oth­ers to just do it, but Canada has in­sisted the U. S. de­par­ture has deeper ram­i­fi­ca­tions than just mi­nus one.

The of­fi­cial ac­knowl­edged peo­ple might say Canada is be­ing ob­struc­tion­ist, but that it’s prob­a­bly due to their own do­mes­tic pres­sure to sign the deal.

Eric Miller, a Wash­ing­ton con­sul­tant, said Canada ad­dress could these con­cerns by agree­ing to a mech­a­nism to re­view the TPP.

“The coun­tries are go­ing to be deal- minded, but (a re­view) is go­ing to be more than a le­gal scrub,” said Miller of the Rideau Po­tomac Strat­egy Group, which has ad­vised clients on trade, in­clud­ing In­dus­try Canada.

“There’s go­ing to have to be some new pieces put on the table, but it’s go­ing to be less than the full- on rene­go­ti­a­tion, where you es­sen­tially throw ev­ery­thing out and start again.”


Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau speaks uni­ver­sity stu­dents Thurs­day in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet­nam.

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