Ottawa wants a trade deal with Japan.
In testimony to the House of Commons international affairs committee, International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said he has reached out to Tokyo asking Japanese officials to consider talks.
“I have already offered to our Japanese colleagues that I would be much interested if they wanted to start again the bilateral discussion,” he said.
Canada’s request to resume talks toward a two-party deal, also known as a bilateral agreement, was made during a recent trade ministers meeting in Chile on the fate of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.
Champagne has not said what Canada’s plans are for the TPP deal, insisting that officials are considering several options.
He told MPs that Tokyo has not given a formal response, and an answer he said is not expected until after the up-coming Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation meeting in Vietnam in May.
Canadian and Japanese trade talks have been on pause since November 2014 with seven rounds of negotiations completed before negotiations were put aside be-cause of TPP discussions.
Ottawa’s desire to resume those talks had been hinted at since the 2017 cabinet shuffle that saw Champagne take over most federal trade files (except for Canada-U.S. trade) from now foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland.
In his mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Champagne was tasked to “promote trade and investment with established markets such as Japan.”
Similar instructions were in-cluded in Freeland’s new mandate letter in February, instructions that contained no mention of the TPP.
Increased access to the Japanese market was a primary reason behind Ottawa joining TPP discussions in the first place.
Japan is seen as a key trade market for Canadian goods, particularly for agricultural products and exports like beef, pork and canola.
Farm groups have routinely pointed to the Asian nation, with its growing middle class, as a market they would like to tap into.
That desire has been heightened by Washington’s recent interest in resuming bilateral trade talks with Japan. The Trump administration has said a trade deal with Tokyo is a high priority.
Meanwhile, Japan and Australia have agreed to a new trading relationship, a deal that is already making it more difficult for Canadian farmers to compete in Japan. Australia is the first major agricultural exporter to gain access to the Japanese market.
Japan is the world’s third largest economy and one of Canada’s largest bilateral foreign direct investment partners in Asia.
In 2014, Japan was the second largest market for Canadian pork, the fourth largest market for Canadian beef and a significant importer of grains and oilseeds.
Farm Credit Canada figures show agricultural trade accounted for 34 percent of Canada’s most significant goods exported to Japan in 2014.
Canada’s interest in a bilateral trade deal with Tokyo is clear. The uncertainty rests with Japan.
Japanese officials have made it clear they do not wish to abandon the multilateral TPP trade deal.
Tokyo has repeatedly urged the remaining TPP countries, including Canada, to ratify the agreement, despite the fact U.S. President Donald Trump has withdrawn the U.S.
In testimony to the House international trade committee in late February, Japan’s ambassador to Canada told MPs his government’s preference was to salvage the TPP deal.
“We understand that some Canadians suggest that Japan and Canada should restart negotiations for the Japan-Canada bilateral economic partnership agreement (EPA).
Of course, we haven’t forgotten the Japan-Canada EPA, but Japan gives priority to close communication on the TPP with Canada,” Kenjiro Monji said.
He’s not alone. Former Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz has also insisted that Ottawa should not abandon the TPP. Ritz now sits as the Conservative party’s trade critic.
Kelsey Johnson is a reporter with iPolitics, www.ipolitics.ca.