Canada joins Pacific trade talks but not much accomplished

Canada’s first official participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade talks won’t be remembered for its accomplishments, say two observers.

The latest round of talks in New Zealand, the 15th since 2009, laid bare the divisions among the 11 participating countries, said Canadian trade watchers Peter Clark and Gordon Campbell.

“The best you could say is that the Auckland talks may have helped to clarify the points that will require risk-taking by the political leaders, if any substantial results are ever to be achieved,” Campbell wrote in an online publication.

Key issues, “including pharmaceutical patents, state-owned enterprises, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, have been hoisted until the next round, which is three months off,” added Clark.

While participants said the talks will, in the words of an official with the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance, set “a precedent for all future trade deals in the Asia-Pacific region,” Clark and Campbell were less optimistic.

“Few of those involved believe that the latest target date for completion — October 2013 — has much hope of being realized, not for a deal of any significance,” wrote Campbell.

“Plainly, the TPP could well end up suffering the same deadlocked fate as the Doha round, and largely for the same reasons. The slate of issues being driven by U.S. business lobbies are simply unacceptable in their current form to far too many participants, who are not being offered enough in return to justify the political cost.”

The duo notes there are a number of competing agendas. For example, Malaysia wants to protect state-owned enterprises and financial services; Australia and New Zealand want market access to the U.S. for sugar, dairy and beef — something Mexico opposes; and there is “a deep rift over rules on apparel.” Washington’s unwillingness to include state subsidies is also a major stumbling block, they said.

“The only way to reach an early conclusion will be to water down ambition to a much lower common denominator — or allow exclusions and differential treatment which will make the deal look much more like Swiss cheese than solid Canadian cheddar,” said Clark.

Campbell noted Canada has kept its supply management system out of the negotiations, which means there’s little likelihood of additional dairy product shipments to North America. And considering the sanitary rules that both New Zealand and Australia use to protect their meat industries, there’s no pressure on Canada to make concessions on supply management, he added.

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