Fo­cus turns to Pa­cific as CETA hits bump

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - NP - marie-danielle smith md­ With files from Na­tional Post news ser­vices

OTTAWA • Italy has sud­denly be­come the lat­est bat­tle front in Canada’s trade wars, with the coun­try’s new agri­cul­ture min­is­ter declar­ing Thurs­day that his coun­try will not rat­ify the Canada-Euro­pean Union free trade ac­cord, po­ten­tially threat­en­ing the 28-coun­try deal.

“We will not rat­ify the free­trade treaty with Canada,” Gian Marco Centi­naio told La Stampa news­pa­per. “Doubts about this deal are com­mon among many of my Euro­pean col­leagues.”

About 98 per cent of the Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic and Trade Agree­ment came into pro­vi­sional ef­fect last Septem­ber af­ter Canada and the EU rat­i­fied it, so Canadian ex­porters can al­ready try to take ad­van­tage. It still needs to be rub­ber-stamped in­di­vid­u­ally by mem­ber states, but there is no par­tic­u­lar dead­line to do so.

For­eign Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land said in Wash­ing­ton: “I’m con­fi­dent we will have full rat­i­fi­ca­tion in the end,” not­ing that Aus­tria was ini­tially re­luc­tant to rat­ify CETA, but even­tu­ally came around. She said she had a “good” con­ver­sa­tion about CETA with Ital­ian Prime Min­is­ter Giuseppe Conte dur­ing last week­end’s G7 sum­mit in Que­bec.

But cou­pled with the re­cent steel and alu­minum tar­iff an­nounce­ments by U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, the Ital­ians had ef­fec­tively sig­nalled that two of the world’s seven lead­ing in­dus­tri­al­ized democ­ra­cies have turned away from the idea of mul­ti­lat­eral free trade.

In Ottawa mean­while, the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment sought to so­lid­ify po­ten­tial new mar­kets in Asia by in­tro­duc­ing leg­is­la­tion to rat­ify the Com­pre­hen­sive and Pro­gres­sive Trans-pa­cific Part­ner­ship. Trade Min­is­ter François-philippe Cham­pagne said: “there has never been a bet­ter time to di­ver­sify.”

Free­land left Wash­ing­ton with no real news on the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment, de­spite hav­ing met with her U.S. coun­ter­part. Although NAFTA re­mains in place and Trump has not made good on threats to with­draw time seems to be run­ning short for a “mod­ern­ized” agree­ment — in par­tic­u­lar be­cause Mex­ico is two weeks away from a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Trump’s steel and alu­minum tar­iffs con­tinue to hang over Canadian and Mex­i­can im­ports. Canada has sched­uled re­tal­ia­tory tar­iffs to take ef­fect on Canada Day. Trump has mean­while been in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether to pun­ish auto in­dus­tries out­side the U.S. on the same “na­tional se­cu­rity” grounds.

At home on Thurs­day, pretty much the en­tire po­lit­i­cal spec­trum — in­clud­ing Ontario pre­mier-des­ig­nate Doug Ford, whose prov­ince is hard-hit by the cur­rent tar­iffs — was stand­ing be­hind Free­land and Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau.

The Com­mons was fo­cused on the CPTPP, an 11-coun­try pact signed in Fe­bru­ary. The orig­i­nal Tran­sPa­cific Part­ner­ship had been ne­go­ti­ated with the U.S., but Trump with­drew shortly af­ter his in­au­gu­ra­tion. The new ver­sion, which con­tains tweaks and the sus­pen­sion of chap­ters im­por­tant to the U.S., re­quires six par­ties to rat­ify it be­fore a free-trade zone can be es­tab­lished.

“We are ab­so­lutely on track to be among the first six,” said a spokesman for Cham­pagne. Mex­ico was first to rat­ify in April, Ja­pan is well on its way and other coun­tries, in­clud­ing New Zealand, ap­pear to be aim­ing for the end of the year.

Even though it prob­a­bly wouldn’t re­sult in the CPTPP com­ing into ef­fect sooner, the idea of fast-track­ing leg­is­la­tion through the House (and the Se­nate) had been float­ing around Ottawa this week. Trudeau’s prin­ci­pal sec­re­tary Ger­ald Butts tweeted that he hoped all par­ties agree that “trade di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion is an ur­gent eco­nomic is­sue for Canada.” Some in­ter­est groups such as the Canadian AgriFood Trade Al­liance were push­ing for the bill to pass be­fore the sum­mer break.

For­mer Con­ser­va­tive trade min­is­ter Ed Fast, who had helped to ne­go­ti­ate the orig­i­nal TPP, moved to fast-track the leg­is­la­tion in the Com­mons on Thurs­day. But the mo­tion would re­quire unan­i­mous con­sent and the NDP blocked it.

“I’ve talked to Min­is­ter Cham­pagne and he’s asked, and I said we would be more than happy to work with them to find a way to get this done sooner rather than later,” said Tory trade critic Dean Allison.

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