O CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expanding on his concerns about the Trans−Pacific Partnership as more details emerge about why his government might avoid locking itself into the agreement when the treaty’s partners meet this week in Vietnam.
The 11 remaining TPP economies, including Canada, have been trying to salvage the deal following U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from it earlier this year.
Trudeau is scheduled to meet Friday with his counterparts from the other TPP countries in Danang, Vietnam, where they will also participate in the leaders’ summit for the Asia−Pacific Economic Co−operation.
During a visit today to Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City, Trudeau reiterated that he won’t be pressed by others into signing a revised TPP.
He says Canada is in no hurry to sign on and won’t be pressed into doing so before making sure it’s the right decision.
There has been speculation of late that some kind of deal on the Trans−Pacific Partnership could be within reach in Danang.
“We’re not going to sign a deal just because we feel pressured into a signing a deal — we’re going to make sure that it’s right for Canada and it’s right for the world,” Trudeau said during an armchair discussion in front of 1,200 students at Ton Duc Thang University.
“We’re in no rush to do that, so we’re going to take our time and look carefully at the negotiations.”
Trudeau, who insisted he’s a strong supporter of free trade as long as it benefits everyone, also gave a lengthy explanation on why the updated TPP should contain more−robust protection for culture through exemptions.
“Culture is more than just an economic good,” he said. “When you look at culture as just another economic box to be ticked off or filled, you’re not understanding how important it is in shaping the identity of a community and of a country.”
Behind the scenes, Canada doesn’t want to charge ahead and sign the deal Friday just because the leaders have all gathered in one spot, said a senior government official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
One reason why Canada wants more time is because of the still−unknown outcome of the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the official said.
The official said Ottawa has been seeking changes to the TPP, or even an exemption or side letter, so that it would avoid inadvertently harming Canada, regardless of the outcome from the NAFTA talks.
As an example, the official noted Canada’s unique situation among TPP economies of having a deeply integrated auto−supply chain with another country. Auto parts can cross the U.S.−Canada border a half−dozen times before they are installed into a vehicle and, therefore, more changes might be needed to the TPP’s rules−of−origin thresholds.
Canada has also been trying put its mark on TPP, which was negotiated by the former Conservative government, by pushing its partners to include “progressive” chapters on the environment, gender equality and labour rights.
The official said the countries should take more time to get the whole deal right — and to raise the bar.
Trump, the official added, only pulled out of the Pacific Rim deal about 10 months ago, while the first discussion by the remaining countries’ officials on how to reshape a post−U.S.. TPP only happened five months ago.
Australia, Japan and Singapore had already ratified the TPP and, after Trump withdrew, the official said they were urging the others to just do it, but Canada has insisted the U.S. departure has deeper ramifications than just minus one.
The official acknowledged a couple of people around the table might say Canada is being obstructionist, but that it’s probably due to their own domestic pressure to sign the deal.
Eric Miller, a Washington trade consultant, said Canada address these concerns by agreeing to sign on to a mechanism to review the TPP.
“The countries are going to be deal−minded, but (a review) is going to be more than a legal scrub,” said Miller, president of the Rideau Potomac Strategy Group, which has advised different clients on trade issues, including Industry Canada.
“There’s going to have to be some new pieces put on the table, but it’s going to be less than the full−on renegotiation, where you essentially throw everything out and start again.”
Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press