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Beijing summit fails to conclude Trans-Pacific Partnership talks

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Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with the leaders of 11 other countries this week in Beijing to try to advance talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The Council of Canadians opposes the TPP. Our trade campaigner Scott Harris has commented, "While it's presented as another 'free trade' agreement, only a handful of the TPP's expected 29 Chapters have anything to do with traditional trade issues like market access for goods. The rest deal with dictating how governments can regulate corporations, the length of pharmaceutical and copyright terms, rules on the Internet and the sharing of data across borders, and rules for the financial sector. Worse yet, all of this will be backed up by a NAFTA Chapter 11-like process of investor-state dispute settlement, which will allow corporations to sue governments for compensation when environmental, health or other regulatory policies interfere with profits."

The Globe and Mail reports, "[The leaders] have announced they are nearing a major agreement to liberalize trade between their economies -- an agreement expected to eclipse NAFTA in importance for Canada. ...They said in a statement following their meeting that significant progress in recent months 'sets the stage to bring these landmark Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations to conclusion.' The Trans-Pacific talks, they said, have 'narrowed the remaining gaps' on the legal text of a trade agreement and are accelerating efforts to clinch a deal."

When representatives from Canada, the United States, Japan, Australia, Chile, Brunei, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam met in Ottawa for a round of negotiations this past July 3-12, the stated aim was to have a draft agreement by the end of this year. At the time of the Ottawa talks, Japan's chief negotiator Koji Tsuruoka stated, "I understand that this meeting in Ottawa will be a very important step to bring the TPP to the final stage towards the end of the year."

That said, the Canadian Press now reports, "There are dim hopes for a deal this year, largely due to a stalemate between the U.S. and Japan over whether Japan will open its borders to farm exports. Japan issued a statement after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's meeting with Harper on Sunday, saying they agreed on the 'need to confirm the political determination to settle a deal'." And U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman says, "There certainly will not be a final agreement, an agreement, a major announcement [in Beijing]. This is an opportunity when we have leaders altogether in one place for them to take stock of where they are and give political impetus to complete the rest of the negotiations."

Reuters explains, "The United States insists that Japan lower barriers to agricultural imports, but Tokyo wants to protect sensitive products including pork, beef, dairy and sugar. Some TPP partners hope that whatever is agreed between the United States and Japan will serve as a blueprint for bilateral agreements with other countries."

The United States and Japan represent about 80 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product of the TPP.

In terms of Harper's role, the Globe and Mail article comments, "Canada has long had two radically different trade policies for agriculture: It tries to open markets abroad for beef, grains and oilseeds while fending off foreign competition for heavily regulated dairy and poultry producers. ...It is expected Canada will face pressure to greatly reduce tariffs on foreign milk, eggs, cheese and poultry [with this deal]. The Canadian government has been adamant it will stand up for the protectionist dairy and poultry industry. But the tariffs shielding dairy and poultry products from foreign rivals are so high -- from 150 per cent to nearly 300 per cent -- that Ottawa has considerable room to trim them or to offer limited duty-free access."

No specific date for the concluding the agreement was set at the Beijing talks other that "as soon as possible."

Photo: Ben Powless

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