There are two solitudes in the arcane world of trade negotiations and trade deals.
At the political level and sometimes in history books, trade deals are the stuff of grand dreams, political successes and economic evolution.
And of course, when there is a deal there are sweeping announcements and congratulations all around (except of course for those who think trade deals are the devil’s work).
Then there is the other side, the behind-the-scenes work where these things are accomplished.
There is little grandiose or exciting in the day-to-day, locked in a room in Ottawa or Brussels or Geneva for days on end, trying to balance the lack of concessions being offered by the other side with constant instructions from the political and bureaucratic bosses back home to make some progress.
Detailed trade negotiations are mundane, grinding, tiring and mired in minutiae too obscure for the average mind to grasp, hardly appearing to be history in the making.
Oh, and they can be long, very long.
World Trade Organization talks have been going on intermittently for 12 years. The last deal took seven years, many of them intensive.
Talks between Canada and the European Union are several years deep.
Trans-Pacific Partnership talks are in early days and with the number of countries involved, can be expected to last for years.
In all of these, success is never guaranteed and yet negotiators invest enormous amounts of time.
So it is an interesting political phenomenon that many politicians, governments and trade bureaucrats invest so much of their credibility in trade talks and usually sound so optimistic about the process.
A deal is possible and the final threads are being sewn together, they whisper to reporters or lobbyists who sometime hype it even more.
Progress is being made at the WTO, Geneva officials say, when many trade watchers see little but quagmire and a 2001 mandate that the world economy largely has passed by.
TPP talks that Canada joined this year are on track to be finished by the end of the year or early next year, a Canadian trade official told a conference this year, even though the 12 countries involved are dealing with incredibly sensitive issues and conflicting ambitions.
Maybe all this optimism and promise will come true, confounding the world.
Maybe political leaders will see opportunity and begin to make the political compromises necessary to seal the deal — more Canadian beef to Europe in exchange for increased dairy access to Canada, for example.
It is at that late stage in the negotiations when they do get interesting, when it seems like history in the making. In 1993 in Geneva, ministers and negotiators staged exhausting all-night sessions for a week to eventually sign what many have since called a very flawed deal.
But they needed something and in the complex world of national economies and multi-lateral trading companies, the need for a deal — any deal — can be the enemy of a good deal. Some times no deal is better.
However, for the Stephen Harper government, success in at least one of the major negotiations underway is widely considered to be crucial to bolster his government’s economic credibility before the 2015 election.
Maybe this time some of the hype will be justified, but don’t bet the farm on it.