September 28, 2015 2:43 pm
Updated: October 5, 2015 9:21 am

Trans-Pacific Partnership: It’s not just about chickens and milk

WATCH LIVE: Canadian Chamber of Commerce comments on the expected Trans-Pacific Partnership deal

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The Trans-Pacific Partnership made a belated centre-stage appearance in the federal election this week, looming large both in a foreign policy debate Monday evening and in a Parliament Hill protest featuring tractors and cows on Tuesday.

It may not sound as gripping as the debate over women donning the niqab during citizenship ceremonies or the question of deficit spending, but once signed, this trade agreement could have a major impact on everything from the protection of personal data online to how much consumers pay for milk at the grocery store.

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Here’s a look at what the TPP is, why it matters, and what the parties are saying about the potentially historic deal.

Tough negotiations

Hammering out a trade agreement between two or three countries can be tricky, but drafting a deal that 12 countries on four continents can get behind requires a whole other level of patience. The TPP has been in the works for nearly a decade, and will touch on a variety of matters related to economic policy. If and when it is signed, the TPP’s members (Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Chile, Peru and Brunei) will account for 40 per cent of global gross domestic product.

Representatives from the various partner nations are meeting in Atlanta this week for what may be the final round of negotiations. The previous round of talks, in Hawaii, ended with no agreement reached.

Cheaper milk and cheese, please!

One of the main reasons the TPP has been contentious in Canada is because it could mean the end of supply management in our dairy and poultry industries. The supply-management system restricts the amount of milk, cheese, eggs and poultry farmers can produce, while strictly limiting imports.

Opponents of this system have long argued that consumers don’t benefit from the protectionist measures, paying inflated prices at the grocery check-out. The other nations involved in the TPP are demanding better access to our market, but Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has repeatedly assured Canadian dairy and poultry farmers that supply management will survive, and that they will not face a flood of cheap imports. There is mounting evidence, however, that Canada may need to relax its stance or risk being excluded from the TPP.

What else could be affected?

This isn’t just about chickens and milk, of course. The auto sector is also bracing for possible changes after Harper said manufacturers may not “necessarily like everything” in the trade agreement. Japan in particular has been pushing for an easing of rules to allow it to export Japanese-made vehicles to North America duty-free, with fewer Canadian-made parts.

Proposed intellectual property and data elements in the TPP have also made waves. Internet service providers may be given new powers to disable or block websites that violate copyright laws. The TPP may also bring an end to rules that block cross-border transfers of data over the Internet, or require that sensitive personal information be stored on servers within national borders.

And finally, drugs. The TPP could extend the standard 20-year patent protections for brand-name pharmaceuticals. According to Doctors Without Borders, that will make it much harder for generic drug manufacturers to produce these medications at lower prices.

What do the federal parties say?

Signing on to the TPP will probably require some uncomfortable concessions from Canada, but the Conservatives have argued that it will also open up numerous foreign markets for Canadian investment and export. The party has staunchly defended Canada’s participation in the deal, but it could suffer a blow to its re-election campaign if the final agreement hurts the dairy, poultry or manufacturing sectors.

The Liberals and NDP, meanwhile, are behind the TPP in principle. The Liberals, however, have recently pushed for more transparency surrounding the negotiations, and both they and the NDP have said that the supply management system must be defended.

© 2015 Shaw Media

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