Canada holding back in TPP talks as U.S. debates fast track

Canadian officials negotiating a new free trade agreement could take a page out of the country’s pact with the European Union.

Ongoing talks for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12 nation deal linking North American and Australian economies with growing markets in Asia, have put Canadian supply management in the crosshairs of foreign officials seeking greater access to the country’s protected dairy market.

At a G20 meeting of agriculture ministers in Turkey last week, U.S. agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack said Canada’s unwillingness to offer more in negotiations may leave it out of a final agreement.

However, federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz has a different take on the situation.

“Everyone is withholding the final negotiations, the final steps that are required, until the Americans actually have the ability to consummate the deal,” he said.

Officials said publicly last week American legislation that would allow it to “fast track” trade deals and keep legislative debate to a simple yes or no vote is key to the completion of TPP talks.

Meanwhile, Canadian government officials have continued to publicly support the country’s supply management sectors, saying the system will be preserved in future trade deals.

Speaking following the G20 meeting, Ritz wouldn’t comment on what kind of access negotiators may offer.

“I’m not going to negotiate this through the media,” said Ritz.

“I can tell you that we’re serious about making this work in Canada’s best interest.”

Analysts told a recent Senate agriculture meeting they could foresee reduced tariffs on imports in supply managed sectors in a completed TPP.

“It’s likely that market access in many areas will come incrementally through expansions of (tariff rate quotas), just like in the European agreement,” said James Rude, a professor at the University of Alberta.

In the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the European Union, Canada provided access for an additional 17,000 tonnes, drawing criticism from dairy groups and calls for compensation.

“This kind of story has come out in the press more recently (related to TPP), and of course we have no idea, really, whether that’s just a negotiating position and bargaining or whether it’s something serious,” said Richard Barichello of the University of British Columbia.

“So I can only say that past history would guide you to thinking that the way we would respond, what we would give up, is to increase the TRQ, perhaps specific to those countries who are negotiating partners in TPP, and that would be it.”

Analysts are also watching ongoing negotiations between the U.S. and Japan as the countries negotiate issues related to sensitive car and rice imports.

“If the U.S. and Japan come out with a really aggressive package, then Canada probably will, if it wants to stay in the deal, have to do some work to liberalize tariffs on those supply managed sectors,” consultant Kathleen Sullivan told senators.

Ritz said the country is continuing to pursue a bilateral agreement with Japan in the event the TPP falters or stalls.

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