The Trudeau government won’t yet commit to ratifying the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) but it signed on the dotted line Thursday.
Minister of International Trade, Chrystia Freeland signed the agreement Thursday morning in New Zealand. She’s assured Canadians that signing the 12-nation trade agreement doesn’t mean Parliament will ratify the deal.
“That is a very important part of the analysis and of the conversation that Canadians need to have,” she said during a conference call from New Zealand
“It’s a big job and we are working on it.”
But that does little to ease the concerns of critics.
Tracey Ramsey, the NDP international trade critic, says the devil’s in the details — many of which she says just aren’t known.
She added the Liberals haven’t done the necessary consultations on the deal to gauge Canadians’ support for and understanding of the deal.
“This signing to me is quite deeply concerning. Why would you sign something you don’t agree with?” she told Global News. “If you ask the average person ‘would you sign a mortgage without knowing the interest rate?’ They would say ‘absolutely not.’ And I feel that’s what we are doing in this case.”
Ramsey points to the auto sector, dairy supply management, the potential increase in the cost of generic drugs and intellectual copyright implications as being among the chief concerns.
Meanwhile, the Conservatives have said the deal could help a sluggish Canadian economy
“Right now when Western Canada is hurting… The Trans-Pacific Partnership offers huge opportunities, particularly in the business services sector and the agricultural sector,” Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose told reporters in Ottawa last week.
For her part, Freeland and her department have conducted a series of cross-country consultations since the Liberals took power in November. Now that the deal is signed, it would take a majority vote in Parliament to ratify.
If ratified by all parties that signed the deal, (something that could take up to two years) the TPP would create the world’s largest trading block, covering 40 per cent of the world economy, giving Canadian exports greater access to the international market.
But Canada would also have to give up some of its market protections, allow more automobile imports and give duty-free access to a percentage of the poultry and dairy markets. That hasn’t gone over too well.
WATCH: Anti-TPP protest held in Auckland
And although the federal government has conducted a series of consultations to allay some concerns, not ratifying the agreement could come with an even greater risk down the road.
“Given the importance of the U.S. market for Canada… if the United States and Mexico decide to join, they’re taking NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) into the TPP, so we really don’t have a choice,” said Carlo Dade, director of the Canada West Foundation’s Centre for Trade and Investment Policy
Canada may not see all the benefits of the agreement at once, but “we’re actually going to stop falling behind,” he said, explaining that the number of trade agreements we have in the Pacific Rim is far lower than others involved in the pact.
Exports aren’t just limited to products, Dade said. Canada is going to have new opportunities to expand markets for trades and services, including areas such as engineering, architecture and skilled labour.
“There are a bunch of things that you wouldn’t think about with a trade agreement, like entry of business people, that the TPP is bringing to the table,” Dade said
So it’s not just goods that could flood the Canadian market – but jobs too.
But while Dade’s eye is creating more economic opportunities for Canada’s economy, others are concerned about what the country may be sacrificing.
A study from Tufts University found TPP will cost Canada 58,000 jobs and increase income inequality.
The study from Tufts’ Global Development and Environment Institute found that 10 years after TPP, Canada’s economy would be just 0.28 per cent larger, amounting to just an additional $5 billion in economic activity.
In the U.S., the economy would be about 0.54 per cent smaller under the TPP, or about US$100 billion smaller, according to the study. The States would also see a net loss of 448,000 jobs due to the agreement, according to the study.
The research from Tufts contradicts studies from The World Bank and the Fraser Institute that suggest positive from the deal.
In a 2015 estimate, The World Bank said the GDP of all 12 TPP countries would increase on average by 1.1 per cent thanks to the deal. However, NAFTA countries (the U.S., Canada and Mexico) would see an increase of 0.6 per cent.
The right-leaning Fraser Institute estimates in their study the TPP would lift Canada’s GDP by $9.9 billion and increase exports by $15.7 billion. The study, however, made no mention of the impact on labour.
Law experts, like Ottawa University law professor Michael Geist and business leaders, including BlackBerry co-founder Jim Balsillie, have been highly critical of the deal’s intellectual property provisions. Doctors without Borders warned earlier this week the IP provisions will also expand patent protection and delay access to generic, cheaper versions of costly biologic drugs.
And recent polls appear to show most Canadians know very little about the TPP or don’t know enough to have an opinion.
A Leger poll, commissioned by the independent advocacy group Leadnow, found 53 per cent of Canadians who had heard of the TPP didn’t know much about the details of the pact.
And an Angus Reid poll released Feb. 4 found similar results: 49 per cent of Canadians said they didn’t know enough about the TPP to form an opinion. However, according to the poll, those who do think they know enough about the poll more often than not support it.
Kurt Hübner, director of the Institute for European Studies at the University of British Columbia, says Canada should “think twice” about ratifying the deal.
“Canada came very late to the game, meaning our previous government tried very hard to join TPP negotiations,” said Huebner. “They may have made too many concessions.”
“The [former] Harper government already signalled there would be payouts for those potential losers, particularly the dairy sector and the food sector,” he said, adding that all trade deals have “winners and losers.”
The previous Conservative government approved a $4.3-billion compensation package over 15 years to help the dairy industry cope with losses from the additional 3.25 per cent of foreign imports that Canada allowed under the TPP. The Liberals have said they are reviewing the idea.
WATCH: PM Justin Trudeau, NDP Leader Mulcair discuss TPP deal, impact on Canadians
Hübner says it is also important to see what unfolds in the current U.S. presidential election cycle.
“There isn’t a current significant candidate who is supporting the current version of TPP,” he said.
Democratic contenders Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have opposed the deal.
Republican frontrunners Ted Cruz and Donald Trump have also strongly rejected the deal, with Trump calling the TPP a “horrible deal,” during a debate last November, saying it is “designed for China to come in, as they always do, through the back door and totally take advantage of everyone.” He later added we was aware China is not one of the 12 nations in the deal.
Only Marco Rubio, who finished third in the Iowa primaries, has voiced his support for the idea.
*With files from The Canadian Press
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