Talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement have stalled, and some news reports are laying the blame on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The heads of the 11 countries that have been negotiating a revised Trans-Pacific Partnership had planned to meet on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation leaders’ summit in Danang, Vietnam.
Trudeau did not go to the conference room at the scheduled time to meet the other TPP leaders. A few moments later, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe walked into the room and told his counterparts that the leaders’ meeting was cancelled.
Sources travelling with the leaders said Trudeau had been meeting with Abe prior to the leaders’ meeting, and their talk ran long, while other world leaders waited for them to arrive. Trudeau never left the meeting room after talking to Abe, but continued on with his next appointment, with Facebook.
“This is a disappointing development,” said Australian Trade Minister Steve Ciobo, according to a report from Australia’s ABC News that said Trudeau had “sabotaged” the agreement.
“The Canadian side said today they are not yet at the stage where its leader can confirm the agreement reached among ministers,” Abe told reporters, adding that all the other leaders had agreed.
The New Zealand Herald reported however that while one country did stall the talks, it was not Canada.
In a statement, the press secretary for International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne said that they had made progress and that the minister is still at the negotiating table, “But as we said coming in, there is no rush to conclude.”
There are outstanding issues for more than one country, he said, and one of those countries is Canada.
“Trade negotiations are always extremely detail-oriented, they are always very complex, they always go down to the wire,” Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters at the summit.
“Where we are now with this negotiation, as François-Philippe said last night, we have not yet reached an agreement in principle.”
Freeland refused to say what some of the outstanding issues for Canada were. She did suggest however that the U.S.’s decision to leave the agreement earlier this year required that the other parties renegotiate its terms.
“Now having a big actor like that, the single biggest economy step out, obviously means that other countries need to think about how does that affect the agreement and what needs to be changed,” she said.
Earlier this week, Trudeau said wasn’t going to be pressured into committing to an agreement “at all costs” and that it would have to address the best interests of Canadians.
A senior government official said Japan has been one of the countries applying pressure on Canada to come to an agreement on an updated TPP.
Trudeau’s lengthy bilateral discussion with Abe started before the meeting’s cancellation.
It appeared to get off to a chilly start.
After they greeted each other inside their meeting room, Trudeau and Abe stood side by side and smiled for the news cameras. But they only clasped hands after someone in the room said: “Shake hands please.”
Canada and Japan, the two largest economies at the TPP talks, appeared to have different expectations ahead of Friday’s scheduled negotiations.
Late Thursday, Trudeau’s Liberal government flatly denied media reports quoting Japan’s economy minister saying that a “deal in principle” had been reached on the TPP. Champagne quickly disputed it. “Despite reports, there is no agreement in principle on TPP,” Champagne tweeted late Thursday.
Champagne and Freeland were in the room for Friday’s Trudeau-Abe meeting.
“We are still negotiating – this is a very, very complex negotiation,” Freeland said.
“This is already a very, very fast process considering how complicated the agreement is and the fundamental change with the U.S. withdrawing makes to the geometry of that agreement.”
-With files from Mike Le Couteur, Reuters and the Canadian Press