Trans-Pacific Partnership: deal or no deal?

It is a bit hard to tell, but Canada is part of one of the largest trade negotiations that have ever taken place.

Hard to tell because not many seem to want to talk about it. Canadian reaction to the negotiations seems a bit like a five-year-old putting his hands over his eyes and hoping no one sees him. That needs to change.

I am talking about the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, which are rapidly running to the finish line. Canada is at risk of being last in the race. Canadians cannot afford to let that happen.

What is at stake? The 12 countries involved in this Asia-Pacific deal make up 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product. Canada is a trading nation.

We cannot afford to take a back seat in 40 percent of the world’s economic activity.

Canada has some sensitivities in the negotiations. We are not unique. Every one of the 12 countries around the table have sensitive domestic issues, including the U.S. “buy America” programming, sugar, cars, clothing and, of course, agriculture.

What does make Canada unique is that the other 11 TPP partners are talking about their sensitivities, while Canada seems to be waiting. Other TPP members have indicated that Canada risks being left out of the deal completely if we don’t quickly come to the table.

There is much to gain. Incomes in the Asia-Pacific region are rapidly rising. Trade between Asian-Pacific countries is growing faster than any other region in the world. Countries in the TPP are not just importing more, they are importing higher quality. This is an ideal opportunity for Canadian farmers and the entire agriculture value chain. We are very good at supplying growing economies with high quality food.

Just as there is much to gain, there is much to lose. Asian-Pacific countries are top buyers of Canadian grain and oilseeds. For example, Japan imports about 1.5 million tonnes of high quality wheat every year.

They are one of our most consistent customers. What happens to this market if competitors such as the United States and Australia gain preferential access?

The status quo is simply not an option. Either Canada is part of the TPP agreement and is able to participate in the region’s growth, or we are left on the sidelines while our competitors gain the benefits of better market access.

Canadian participation should really be a no-brainer, but Canada will likely be asked to make decisions at an inconvenient time.

Inconvenient because these decisions will need to be made before Oct. 19, which is election day in Canada for those who are not political junkies.

Elections are a difficult time for political leaders to talk about sensitive issues, including sensitive trade negotiations.

Elections are also an easy time for politicians to attack their opponents for making difficult decisions that are in the best interest of the Canadian economy.

This is why all of Canadian agriculture, especially farmers, needs to speak up and be heard. We need to remind politicians from all parties that we depend on trade.

We need to ensure that they know the large benefits that will come from TPP participation. And we need them to understand the costs associated with being left behind. Politicians who understand the benefits of trade need your support.

Cam Dahl is president of Cereals Canada.

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