TPP negotiations and the game of poker

Note: Trade ministers from the 12 nations negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which includes Canada, failed to reach a deal July 31. While the following was written before the latest talks broke down, negotiations continue and the political lobbying goes on.

There has been a lot of rhetoric lately from all political parties, pundits, publishers and people all across our country providing their opinion on whether Canada needs to stay at the table and successfully conclude a deal within the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations.

We have heard that the TPP negotiations “are the biggest game in town,” that the “stakes could not be higher,” that Canada “needs to stay at the table,” and conclude an agreement with our other 11 TPP trading partners.

Comments like these remind me of the same sort of comments you hear when you watch a TV episode of the World Poker Tour (WPT).

In many ways the WPT and TPP are similar. You have a number of very determined people at the table, each trying to read the minds of their opponents and guess what their cards held might be and whether, as the betting and stakes get higher, there is a bluff or two involved.

So what are the stakes for Canadian agriculture?

Consider that the TPP countries represent about 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, buy about 65 percent of Canada’s total agri-food exports of $50 billion annually, and that over 90 percent of Canada’s farmers and 40 percent of our food processing sector is dependent on export trade.

I’d say those are pretty high stakes, especially if Canada is told to step away from the table because we just don’t think the timing is right or the ante is too high.

For the barley industry and its Barley Council of Canada members, the TPP is a big deal and one that we need. For Canadian barley farmers, more than 50 percent of their barley production is exported to TPP countries either as barley, malt, or as barley-fed beef and pork.

Japan, for instance, is our second largest malt export market, our second largest pork market and our fourth largest beef market.

To be told that Canada has to walk away from the table would devastate our entire barley value chain industry and all agri-food exporters.

Recent history has shown that when Canada took longer than anticipated to conclude a trade deal with South Korea, our trading competitors who had concluded earlier trade deals had a significant competitive advantage.

As a result, Canada’s meat industry exports declined significantly, and barley growers lost the opportunity to feed those animals with Canadian barley. Let’s not have history repeat itself.

Despite recent delays, TPP talks are expected to resume.

In many ways, the TPP negotiations and poker have a lot in common, but one key difference exists. In poker there is only one winner.

In the TPP however, once the final hand has been dealt, all countries will come out winners for their respective trade interests.

Canada…the time is now to declare, “we’re all in.”

Phil de Kemp is executive director of the Barley Council of Canada.

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