TPP trade consultations draw wide-ranging viewpoints

The parliamentary committee on international trade continues its cross-country public consultations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership after a swing through the West in April.

So far, says Conservative committee member and former agriculture minister Gerry Ritz, the presentations from various organizations have been as expected.

“The usual suspects are for it and the usual suspects are against it,” he said in an interview from Washington, where American agricultural representatives had gathered to push for TPP ratification.

Ritz said 225 organizations had come together to lobby the Obama administration and agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack to make sure the deal is done.

In Canada, people have until June 30 to make written submissions to the committee. They can also appear as witnesses at any time during the study.

At the consultations in Vancouver, Calgary, Saskatoon and Winnipeg, the committee heard from grains and oilseeds, beef and pork producers how the agreement would improve access to international markets and support more processing in Canada.

Kevin Boon, general manager of the British Columbia Cattlemen’s Association, told the Vancouver meeting that the industry there is looking at the viability of more feeding and processing as cattle production moves north.

In Saskatoon, Jason Skotheim, chair of SaskBarley, said the TPP would eliminate the current $133 per tonne tariff on Canadian feed barley entering Japan and increase export value by $25 million.

“The TPP would also see barley preparations and flour become duty free immediately in Japan on TPP-wide tariff rate quotas, TRQs, of approximately 400 tonnes, growing to 615 tonnes over five years,” Skotheim said. “Canada currently exports about 100,000 tonnes of food barley a year to Japan.”

Exporters said Canada must be one of the founding signatories to the deal to get the most value from it, including more jobs.

Janice Tranberg, executive director of SaskCanola, said that 14 crush plants across Canada employ about 222,000 people. Increased capacity could add 22,000 potential jobs, when current numbers are extrapolated.

Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association chair Ryan Beierbach said research in that sector shows about 27 workers are employed for every $1 million in cattle sales. Increasing sales from $100 million to $300 million would add up to 5,400 jobs.

Ritz said those opposed to the deal are concerned about labour and environmental standards in some countries, but he said the TPP would actually force them to “up their game.”

He also said there is value in the consultations even if he has heard it all before because there was a misconception that the Conservatives negotiated the TPP in secret.

“Hundreds of businesses signed the non-disclosure clause and were part of daily and weekly briefings, as well as provinces that wanted to be involved,” Ritz said.

Some chose not to, and that was their decision, he said.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance has said the process in Canada is moving too slowly and urged the government to get on with it.

Ritz said he wonders why the Liberal government is focused on following what the Americans do. He said other countries should move first and put pressure on the Americans to do the same.

Both he and Al Mussell, lead researcher at Agri-Food Economic Systems, say they don’t think the U.S. election will necessarily be a factor.

Frontrunners Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump have both said they would tear up the agreement.

“That’s the politics of it,” Ritz said. “We’ve seen this move in 1993 in Canada.”

Mussell noted NAFTA was signed by the Brian Mulroney and George H. Bush administrations, but was ratified by the Jean Chretien and Bill Clinton governments, “both of whom campaigned adamantly against NAFTA….”

He said Trump might have a hard time overcoming the election rhetoric if he wins, but Hillary Clinton would likely sign it, particularly if Congress were sympathetic.

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