Trans-Pa­cific trade talks stag­ger down to the wire

Pact likely will be­come key elec­tion is­sue if ham­mered out be­fore Oct. 19 fed­eral vote

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE - LES WHIT­TING­TON OT­TAWA BUREAU

OT­TAWA— Ne­go­ti­a­tions to cre­ate a sweep­ing trade pact in­volv­ing Canada, the United States, Ja­pan and nine other Pa­cific Rim na­tions went down to the wire Sun­day as of­fi­cials met late into the evening in a last-ditch at­tempt to reach con­sen­sus on the out­lines of a deal.

It was a roller-coaster of hopes and dis­ap­point­ments at the closed-door talks in At­lanta, where gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials from the would-be part­ners met for the fifth con­sec­u­tive day of in­tense horse-trad­ing.

Stephen Harper had ini­tially planned a Sun­day evening ap­pear­ance in Ot­tawa to welcome the deal, which his gov­ern­ment sees as a po­ten­tial source of long-term eco­nomic growth.

But the Con­ser­va­tive leader’s press con­fer­ence was put off as word came from At­lanta that the ne­go­ti­a­tions, which in the af­ter­noon were ap­par­ently headed for a suc­cess­ful con­clu­sion, be­came bogged down again. A tech­ni­cal brief­ing for media on the ex­pected agree­ment-in-prin­ci­ple on the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship (TPP) was also post­poned. There was spec­u­la­tion late Sun­day that the At­lanta meet­ing would go over into Mon­day.

The ne­go­ti­a­tions, which have been un­der­way for years, took on added now-or-never drama in At­lanta ow­ing to pres­sure to ham­mer out a deal be­fore the Oct. 19 fed­eral elec­tion here in Canada, which par­tic­i­pants re­al­ized could lead to a change of gov­ern­ment. The loom­ing pres­i­den­tial elec­tion cy­cle in the United States also put pres­sure on ne­go­tia­tors to over­come their dif­fer­ences on a hand­ful of lin­ger­ing is­sues.

A TPP deal, which would re­ver­ber­ate through Canada for years, is likely if com­pleted to fea­ture promi­nently in the fi­nal two weeks of the elec­tion cam­paign. NDP Leader Thomas Mul­cair has vowed to pro­tect dairy farm­ers and au­towork­ers — two groups that could be af­fected by the TPP — and has said that if elected to power he would not feel com­pelled to hon­our a trade agree­ment ini­tialled by Harper in the midst of an elec­tion cam­paign. “The NDP, when we form gov­ern­ment on Oct. 19, will not be bound by this se­cret agree­ment that Mr. Harper has been ne­go­ti­at­ing,” the NDP leader said in Brant­ford, Ont.

Lib­eral Leader Justin Trudeau has also promised to pro­tect dairy farm­ers and those in the auto sec­tor but said ap­proval of a TPP deal would de­pend on what’s ac­tu­ally ne­go­ti­ated.

Cam­paign­ing in Brampton, Trudeau said the Lib­er­als favour free­trade deals but would take a long look at any agree­ment signed by the Con­ser­va­tives be­fore de­cid­ing whether to up­hold it.

“We will of course eval­u­ate and look at what’s in the deal,” he said. “The prob­lem is that (Harper) has been se­cre­tive and non-trans­par­ent in this and we need to make sure that we’re ac­tu­ally cre­at­ing a trade deal that is good for Cana­di­ans.”

Harper has said a TPP agree­ment would have to be ap­proved in Par­lia­ment be­fore com­ing into force.

De­spite hopes of suc­cess­ful out­come in At­lanta Sun­day, a few lin­ger­ing is­sues — in­clud­ing Cana­dian dairy — re­peat­edly de­layed a deal an­nounce­ment.

As a re­sult, a planned news con­fer­ence to an­nounce the deal was resched­uled from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., then 8 p.m. and then left un­sched­uled en­tirely for the evening — a fit­ting fi­nale to a min­is­te­rial meet­ing marked by all-night ne­go­ti­a­tions that was sup­posed to last two days, then three, then four and was by Sun­day in its fifth day.

Harper had planned for a quiet day off the elec­tion trail but he ended up con­sumed by trade talks, be­ing briefed in Ot­tawa by the ne­go­ti­at­ing team in At­lanta.

The dy­nam­ics de­lay­ing the deal were ex­plained by one of the trade min­is­ters in­volved the 12-coun­try talks. He said a strug­gle over nextgen­er­a­tion phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals has had a cas­cad­ing ef­fect on at­tempts to re­solve other is­sues.

“Look, it’s not done yet,” said Aus­tralia’s An­drew Robb.

He ex­plained that the U.S. and Aus­tralia had worked all night to re­solve their dif­fer­ences on cut­ting-edge, cell-based medicines and made a break­through around 3 a.m.

He said they’d suc­ceeded at es­tab­lish­ing a model that bridges the gap be­tween two en­trenched po­si­tions: the more busi­ness-friendly, eightyear patent-style pro­tec­tions the U.S. wants for bi­o­log­ics, and the more pa­tient-and-tax­payer-friendly fiveyear model pre­ferred by Aus­tralia and oth­ers.

But that caused an un­even rip­ple ef­fect. Some other coun­tries weren’t pleased with the com­pro­mise, and that dis­cus­sion be­came more mul­ti­sided with two or three hold­outs re­main­ing, he said.

Canada was not too in­volved in that skir­mish. But the de­lay, ac­cord­ing to Robb, wound up push­ing other is­sues to the back burner un­til Sun­day morn­ing and ne­go­tia­tors were still try­ing to man­age com­pro­mises all day.

In­sid­ers say ac­cess to Cana­dian gro­cery shelves is chief among the out­stand­ing is­sues. Ne­go­tia­tors have been hag­gling about how much for­eign but­ter, con­densed milk and other dairy prod­ucts should be al­lowed into Canada.

That last-minute sus­pense cast a shadow of un­cer­tainty over what ap­peared to be a done deal a few hours ear­lier.

TAMI CHAP­PELL/REUTERS

Protesters be­lieve the TPP should not ex­pand to drug mo­nop­o­lies deny­ing life-sav­ing and less ex­pen­sive al­ter­na­tive drugs.

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