One of the big items on the agenda could be the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement – a deal that many had thought was dead and buried following the decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to withdraw ten months ago.
But TPP could be looking at an imminent resurrection, confirmed International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne in a weekend interview with The West Block‘s Vassy Kapelos.
Champagne said he and other trade officials will present a series of options for TPP 2.0 to their leaders next week at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.
“I had contacts with my counterparts to try to push (Canada’s) agenda, which is a progressive one,” the minister said. “There was a sense that we should recommit to open free, principled trade in that part of the world.”
But Champagne stopped short of firmly committing Canada to a renewed deal.
“I don’t want to speculate what we’re going to be able to achieve, we’ll have to see on the ground.”
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With all the controversy and uncertainty swirling around NAFTA, TPP has largely been ignored in recent months. But Champagne noted that the work to revive it has continued, and Canada has also been moving ahead with exploratory trade talks with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The minister will soon be heading to India with a 10-member delegation to look at opening up trade routes there as well.
“So it’s a multi-phased approach,” Champagne said. “Clearly when it comes to Asia-Pacific, I think Canadians are expecting Canada, as a Pacific nation, to be front and centre.”
With the United States taking an increasingly protectionist stance and Trump threatening to scrap NAFTA entirely, experts agree that trade with other global partners could be critical for Canada’s long-term economic health.
“We’re expecting a major announcement out of this trip on the Trans Pacific Partnership,” noted Carlo Dade, director of the Canada West Foundation’s trade and investment centre. “For us, this agreement is huge.”
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If Canada wants to grow exports and increase trade, he said, it needs to look far beyond NAFTA. The sense among average Canadians is that TPP is dead or dying, Dade added, which couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, a recent Angus Reid poll found that six-in-ten Canadians now say they support the TPP (it was just 32 per cent at the beginning of 2016) and half say the benefits of pursuing the TPP outweigh the risks of angering the United States.
“With the Americans out (of TPP), we actually do better than we did when the Americans were in the agreement. We’re taking market share from them in places like Vietnam and also Japan.”
According to Champagne, Trudeau’s directive to him on trade was relatively simple: “make trade real for people. ”
That means agreements that can net more Canadian jobs, better prices for consumers and more of Canada’s products on the international market, he explained.
“What is in Canada’s best interest is to have a say in trade in Asia-Pacific,” the minister said.
— Watch the full interview with International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne above.