International trade minister Chrystia Freeland didn’t have much of a choice when it came to signing the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.
Not signing the deal risked leaving Canada out in the cold of a multi-lateral, multibillion-dollar trade deal, whose future remains far from certain. Canada now has two years to decide whether to ratify the pending trade deal.
Signing the trade deal, which does not guarantee ratification, kept Canada at the international TPP table, one that includes Canada’s largest trading partners and the world’s fastest emerging markets.
So, Freeland headed to Auckland, New Zealand, to sign the trade deal during a ceremony Feb. 4.
Export-dependent agriculture was thrilled. News release after news release commended Freeland for signing the deal, which Canada’s beef, pork, grain and oilseed producers argue is integral for their global competitiveness.
“Canadian meat industry vigorously supports signature of the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” read the heading of a news release from the Canadian Meat Council.
Industry officials have long argued that the importance of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement for export dependent agriculture cannot be underestimated.
For example, some of Canada’s top customers for red meat and canola are located in TPP markets where competitors have already secured reduced tariff rates.
“The TPP preserves access to the U.S. and secures unprecedented access to Japan and the fast growing markets of Vietnam and Malaysia,” Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance president Brian Innes said the day the deal was signed.
“Being able to export to these countries on a level playing field will strengthen the agri-food sector’s ability to compete, grow and create jobs right across the country.”
Much of Canada’s agriculture industry is eager to ratify the TPP as quickly as possible, but the deal’s future is far from certain. For example, passage through the American political system is far from certain, while questions and concerns remain here at home.
The Liberals campaigned on a promise of fully consulting with Canadians — complete with a debate in Parliament — over whether Canada should sign on to the deal.
Meetings with stakeholders continue with updates posted regularly to a government website.
According to the website, Freeland met with the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance Feb. 3 while in Auckland.
The government’s consultation will also include a full study at the House of Commons international trade committee, which Freeland has personally requested.
Meanwhile, the NDP aren’t satisfied. Trade critic Tracey Ramsey, a former auto worker, has repeatedly demanded the Liberals conduct an economic impact assessment of the deal, a request echoed by NDP leader Tom Muclair.
“Will the Liberals commit to completing a thorough impact assessment and then making the study public?” Mulcair asked in question period Feb. 3.
With Freeland in Auckland, agriculture minister Lawrence MacAulay was called on to respond.
He insisted signing the deal was nothing more than “a technical step.”
“The only way the TPP can take effect is through ratification and a majority vote in this House,” MacAulay said, skirting the economic assessment question.
However, securing an economic assessment isn’t the only NDP concern.
Questions remain about the compensation package to supply managed farmers promised under the Conservatives. The $4.3 billion package is designed to compensate for concessions made on dairy, poultry and eggs under the TPP, along with the increased dairy quota granted to the European Union under the Canada-Europe trade agreement.
Freeland has refused to say whether compensation will be provided, telling reporters the funds are “under review.”
However, MacAulay, for his part, appears committed to compensation for supply managed farmers.
“We do understand the importance of compensation,” he said in question period Feb. 1.
Asked in an interview Feb. 2 whether the Conservative compensation plan will be used as the benchmark for Liberal compensation, MacAulay couldn’t say.
“I don’t know,” he said.
The final package and its details rests with the federal cabinet, MacAulay added.