What to do with the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
That was the question world trade ministers were left to wrestle with earlier this month as officials from 12 TPP countries met in Chile to sort out what to do now that the United States had formally withdrawn.
Japan, a key market for Canada in the deal, wants to try to salvage the agreement as best it can. Several other countries are also moving toward ratification.
Canada appears to lean toward trying to resume bilateral talks with Japan. Whether Tokyo is interested remains to be seen.
Many trade experts doubt whether the pact can survive without the U.S. The deal in its current form cannot be ratified without the U.S. That means new negotiations are required if the deal is to be resurrected.
China sees the floundering TPP as a chance to solidify its position as a global trading superpower, a message Beijing brought to the Chile meeting.
For his part, Canadian Trade Minister Jean-Philippe Champagne stressed Canada’s interest in securing preferential trade access to the lucrative Asia-Pacific region.
“What is paramount for me as international trade minister is to make sure that Canadian producers, consumers and workers have preferential market access to the very important economies in Asia Pacific,” the minister said in a news release.
In the end, the ministers agreed to continue talking and to try to preserve the positive outcomes of the deal, a position that appears to sit well with the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance.
“The fact that ministers shared views on advancing economic integration in the Asia-Pacific sends a positive signal to the world that keeping borders open is better than closing them down,” CAFTA said in a statement March 17.
The Chile meeting is only one piece of the ever-evolving world trade situation.
The world is grappling with a rapidly changing global trade environment being driven by strong populist and protectionist sentiments in the United States, Great Britain and elsewhere.
U.S. President Donald Trump has made it clear that his White House is not a fan of large trade deals.
Washington has also warned that it may not adhere to World Trade Organization rulings that U.S. officials feel would hurt the American economy, a move some have warned could spark trade wars.
Meanwhile, Britain is expected to formally start the process of withdrawing from the European Union by the end of the month.
And finance ministers from some of the world’s largest economies recently agreed to change their formal position on protectionism during their G20 meeting March 18. Finance ministers agreed to drop the pledge to fight protectionism after protests from the United States.
Trump has vowed to follow a strict “America First” policy that includes penalties for U.S. companies that manufacture their goods abroad.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has been praised in diplomatic circles for his ability to handle the new White House, has spoken out against any purposed border tax.
With North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiations expected to start later this spring, Ottawa is trying to make sure Canada is seen as a friend, not a foe, at the bargaining table.
Handling Washington is one piece of the complicated global trade puzzle.
Canada is an export-dependent country. Ensuring Canadian farm products have reliable trade access is critical.
Keeping our other global allies happy and assuring them Canada is still willing to do business is key. Meetings like the one in Chile ensure those conversations are happening.
Kelsey Johnson is a reporter with iPolitics, www.ipolitics.ca.