Justin Trudeau’s Liberals are not doing very well on the international trade file. Trudeau left a recent meeting aimed at resuscitating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) without a deal in hand. NAFTA re-negotiations are purportedly not doing well. This week Trudeau had problems with negotiations surrounding a third potential trade agreement.
Justin was in China this week to meet with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Chinese President Xi Jinping. After Trudeau met with Li for several hours on Monday the expected announcement of the opening of formal trade talks was not announced.
The problem for the Chinese was the Canadian demand for social justice issues as a precondition to a trade deal. As reported by the CBC:
The sticking points appear to be Canada’s insistence that labour and gender rights be part of any deal.
China is not a country that would be willing to put social rights at the top of the agenda for negotiating a trade deal. Communism is inherently antithetical to the enforcement of basic human rights. The Chinese government has had a long history of not enforcing basic human rights. There are serious concerns with the persecution of religious minorities in China.
Trudeau doubled-down on his social justice approach to trade in a speech on Wednesday. As reported by the Financial Post:
“The prime minister made it clear he wants Canada to move forward with the trade talks with China but said there needs to be an agreed framework that includes progressive elements such as gender, labour rights, and the environment.”
The Chinese have made it clear that those issues are non-starters. It isn’t clear why Trudeau continues to push those issues. Trudeau’s approach is especially troublesome when there are far bigger concerns in coming to a trade agreement with China than social justice issues.
The biggest concern is whether or not China would ultimately stick to the terms of any trade agreement.
As Maclean’s Paul Wells wrote there is:
“uncertainty as to the Chinese government’s willingness or ability to adhere to its obligations under a potential FTA.”
Perhaps the Chinese government was being realistic by stopping Trudeau in his tracks. The Chinese government clearly want no part of an ‘enforceable’ agreement that forces them to allow external scrutiny of their labour, environmental and gender laws. Many of the social justice issues Trudeau wants to foster are antithetical to the current government in Beijing.
The Canadian insistence on social issues was an absolute non-starter with the Chinese. That is especially problematic for the Liberals given their troubles on other trade deals. Canada agreed to a framework with the other parties in the TPP then declined the agreement. The rest of the TPP may bend to Trudeau’s demands, but that seems unlikely. Agreeing to a framework deal, only to decline it the next day really looks bad for the Canada.
If it were just one trade partner then the Liberals could reasonably claim the problem was with the other side. Between the TPP and China, there are 11 other countries and there are two trade deals involved. The other members of the TPP found common ground on which to meet, but the Liberals pulled out of the deal. China wouldn’t even agree to formally trade discussions with Canada after Trudeau laid out his opening position.
The enforceability of Trudeau’s desired social chapters is a key sticking point for seemingly every country that Trudeau’s government tries to negotiate a trade deal with.
The Liberal government needs to focus on economic issues and not social issues. Countries are unwilling to give up the level of sovereignty Trudeau demands in his approach to negotiations. It is time for Trudeau to change his approach to trade negotiations.