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Canada Joins International Free-Trade TalksWednesday, June 20, 2012 > 11:03:10
(Regina Leader Post – Mark Kennedy, Postmedia News)
Canada will join negotiations on a major international free-trade agreement – the Trans-Pacific Partner-ship (TPP) – which promises to both boost economic growth and bring controversy in its wake.
In fact, questions are being raised about whether the Conservative government is poised to abandon protections for certain sectors of the Canadian economy in its bid to reach a deal.
The announcement was made Tuesday by Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the G20 summit, where political leaders also released a communique urging greater global economic growth and tighter financial controls in debt-crippled Europe.
"Opening new markets and creating new business opportunities leads to jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for all Canadians," Harper said in a statement released as he met with U.S. President Barack Obama.
At a later news conference, Harper told reporters that the initiative is part of the government's plan to diversify exports, create jobs and bolster economic growth. However, Harper sidestepped two direct questions about an is-sue that could turn into a political headache for the governing Tories. He refused to say if Canada will negotiate on eliminating the supply-management system which protects dairy and poultry farmers – a concession that other countries are demanding.
Harper said he has not agreed to any "specific measures" as a precondition for joining the talks, but he refused to say if that would change once negotiations start. When pressed on the matter, Harper still refused to say if he is protecting supply management – a system that is particularly beneficial to farmers in Ontario and Quebec.
"I'm not going to get into talking about specific areas, or specific areas of our mandate, other than to say that Canada aims whenever it gets into a trade negotiation to promote and to protect all of its interests across all of the range of industries, including obviously the greater interest of the Canadian economy."
The nine member nations currently in the TPP talks together represent a market of 510 million people and a GDP of $17.6 trillion, said Harper's office. Now, with the participation of Canada and Mexico – also a new entry – that market will comprise 658 million people and a GDP of $20.5 trillion.
The development came seven months after the Harper government first signalled that it wanted to be at the negotiating table for the trading bloc. The prime minister had personally lobbied the leaders of the nine-nation bloc for permission to join the talks. In recent months, Harper has characterized the venture as a critical part of Canada's goal of boosting the country's economy through new free trade agreements – in the Asia/Pacific region, Europe and India.
Business groups in Canada have been urging the government to make the TPP a priority and some expressed satisfaction Tuesday with the development. However, there are also political risks ahead for the governing Tories.
Groups such as the Council of Canadians already have come out strongly against the TPP – warning that Canada could lose out at the negotiations by being forced to change its policies on drugs, copyright, and environmental and public-health rules.
Liberal International Trade critic Wayne Easter said the government needs to be more forth-coming about the issue. "Canada's entrance into the TPP will have a significant impact on the way our country en-gages with its trading partners," he said, adding that the country was "undoubtedly forced to make concessions as a condition of being accepted into the trading partnership. "We are asking the Conservative government to be transparent and provide all details of this trade negotiation."
The nations already part of the TPP negotiations are the United States, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.