Seizing opportunity in era of uncertainty

With today’s White House injecting uncertainty into how our trade-based economy will prosper in an age of protectionism, there’s a huge opportunity for Canada to plot its own path instead of being held hostage by the latest tweet.

In the next few days, Canada will be at the table with Trans-Pacific Partnership countries in Vietnam, and the time is right for a deal.

Since the United States pulled out earlier this year, Japan and the other TPP11 partners have remained at the table.

However, the window to take the years of negotiation that went into the TPP and make it work is limited.

Just as we’re seeing south of the border, things can shift quickly. And as other countries speed ahead with their own Asian bilateral trade agreements, seizing the advantage for Canada to have preferential access to the dynamic Asia-Pacific region is more pressing than ever.

The Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit that is being held in Vietnam this week presents a perfect opportunity.

As negotiated, the TPP remains an agreement that offers huge export growth potential and one where Canada can lead.

By reducing or getting rid of tariffs on virtually all products, it would enable Canadian exporters to have a competitive advantage in the region.

Take Japan for example. It’s a high-value market for Canadian agri-food products worth $3.9 billion last year, despite the fact that their agri-food market is protected by high tariffs. The TPP would get rid of these tariffs and allow our exports to grow.

Unfortunately, it’s not just about seizing opportunity; it’s also about preventing us from sliding backward. Our competitors are well ahead of us in gaining preferential access.

To date, Canada’s only free trade agreement in Asia is with South Korea. While the agreement has helped us be competitive, we initially lost badly when Canadian agri-food exports plunged by $500 million overnight as we lagged behind our competitors in striking a deal.

The same thing is happening with Japan.

Australia, Mexico and Chile already have trade deals with Japan, and the Japan-European Union Economic Partnership Agreement will slash 85 percent of Japanese tariffs on European agriculture and food products.

The fortunate thing is that a deal could be on the table this week, and Canada is well-positioned to seize it. Doing so will increase exports and economic growth here at home.

It will also send a signal to the world that we will not be bullied into protectionism.

International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne recently said that Canada has a “diversification imperative” in our trade strategy.

We couldn’t agree more.

Canada needs to chart its own destiny. We need to work toward a comprehensive agreement that’s beneficial for all partners. Getting a TPP11 agreement on the margins of the APEC summit in Vietnam can help us do just that.

Brian Innes is president of the Canadian Agri-food Trade Alliance.

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