Stink­ing up the TPP

National Post (Latest Edition) - - FP COMMENT - Neil Mo­hin­dra Neil Mo­hin­dra is a pub­lic pol­icy con­sul­tant based in Toronto.

Cusco is one of the re­gions in Peru dom­i­nated by sub­sis­tence f arm­ing, which i s when farm­ers grow only enough food to feed their own fam­i­lies. The gods may be smil­ing down on the farm­ers of Cusco. If Justin Trudeau has his way, the poor farm­ers might soon wel­come the ar­rival of gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials to bring to their lit­tle plots of potato and quinoa all sorts of new stan­dards for progressive val­ues.

Canada’s Lib­eral gov­ern­ment is yearn­ing to put its virtue- sig­nalling stamp on the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship ( TPP), which was ne­go­ti­ated by the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment. The TPP is a free-trade agree­ment among coun­tries along the Pa­cific Rim from f our con­ti­nents. Eleven mem­bers re­main fol­low­ing the U. S. de­ci­sion to with­draw ear­lier this year. The re­main­ing coun­tries have worked to­gether to sal­vage the agree­ment since the U. S. left, and got to­gether at the APEC sum­mit in Viet­nam. But Canada made it­self the skunk of the party by scuttling a ten­ta­tive agree­ment among TPP mem­bers. And in a part of the world where pre­serv­ing face is im­por­tant, Canada chose the most hu­mil­i­at­ing route by fail­ing to show at a meet­ing where the ten­ta­tive agree­ment was to be signed.

The rea­sons be­hind Canada’s in­sis­tence on more ne­go­ti­a­tions are a bit mud­dled, but there ap­pears to be both some spe­cific is­sues and some broader themes. The spe­cific is­sues in­clude the auto in­dus­try and cul­ture. Canada is re­port­edly seek­ing new coun­try- of- ori­gin rules for the auto in­dus­try, which shows that Cana­dian trade of­fi­cials have learned some­thing about pro­tec­tion­ist prac­tices from their U. S. coun­ter­parts in the NAFTA ne­go­ti­a­tions. Canada’s need for a chap­ter on cul­ture is pos­si­bly mys­ti­fy­ing to the other coun­tries in the TPP. They may not un­der­stand how Canada must main­tain a vast army of bu­reau­crats in Ot­tawa ded­i­cated to cul­tural sub­si­dies, reg­u­la­tions and trade bar­ri­ers. Oth­er­wise, Cana­dian mu­si­cians, film­mak­ers and other artists will au­to­mat­i­cally turn into zom­bies in­ca­pable of show­ing any artis­tic merit.

The broader themes be­hind Canada’s stance are fa­mil­iar. Canada in­sists on pur­su­ing the pet themes of the Trudeau gov­ern­ment by ei­ther en­hanc­ing chap­ters or in­tro­duc­ing new chap­ters into the TPP on progressive val­ues such as gen­der rights and en­vi­ron­men­tal and labour stan­dards. This will likely prove a fool’s er­rand.

Mem­bers of the TPP are highly di­verse. They are at dif­fer­ent stages of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, and vary sig­nif­i­cantly in po­lit­i­cal struc­tures, cul­tures and his­to­ries. This will make ne­go­ti­at­ing com­mon stan­dards on the Liberals’ progressive val­ues com­pli­cated. For in­stance, it is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine con­sen­sus on gen­der rights be­tween Canada and a coun­try like Brunei, where the sul­tan that gov­erns the na­tion has adopted the long­stand­ing cul­tur­ally and re­li­giously ac­cepted prac­tice of hav­ing mul­ti­ple wives. And should new labour stan­dards be a pri­or­ity for Peru to pur­sue with sub­sis­tence farm­ers, like those in Cusco, when ex­ist­ing rights in the TPP agree­ment are sim­ply not prac­ti­cal?

The re­al­ity is that the best Canada can hope for in its pur­suit of progressive val­ues is lip ser­vice from the other coun­tries. But even that may be unattain­able. The TPP in­cludes coun­tries with a rep­u­ta­tion for guard­ing their in­de­pen­dence that do not ap­pre­ci­ate be­ing told what they should do by out­siders.

Canada needs to pur­sue new deals, given the re­cent un­pre­dictabil­ity of our largest trad­ing part­ner the U.S., as ex­hib­ited by the on­go­ing NAFTA ne­go­ti­a­tions. The real dam­age of Canada’s an­tics in Viet­nam may ex­tend be­yond the TPP. Other ju­ris­dic­tions seek­ing to pur­sue new trade agree­ments may pre­fer less dif­fi­cult part­ners and put Canada at the bot­tom of their lists.



Poor farm­ers with pota­toes in Paru Paru, Cusco, Peru.


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