Trade groups nervous about lack of TPP ratification

When it comes to the Comprehensive Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership, not much is happening in Ottawa right now.

As a result, trade advocates are worried the federal government won’t ratify the deal in time and Canadian exporters could be at a disadvantage.

“It’s quiet, and that’s not a good thing,” said Claire Citeau, executive director of the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance, which represents national commodity groups on trade issues.

“The (ratification) process can be cumbersome but it needs to move forward.”

Canada and 10 other nations signed the CPTPP in March at a meeting in Chile. The Pacific nation trade deal is a modified version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, minus the United States. President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the TPP in January 2016, shortly after he took office.

Canada’s agri-food industry has been a vocal supporter of CPTPP because it provides access to the lucrative Japanese market for products such as pork, beef, canola and wheat.

As well, it is expected to help agri-food exporters develop or expand markets in countries such as Vietnam and Malaysia.

CAFTA members are worried the Canadian government is moving too slowly on ratification.

If six nations formally approve the agreement, it takes effect for those countries. That means Canada would be left behind because other exporting nations could take advantage of reduced tariffs.

As of the middle of May, Mexico had ratified the deal, Japan will vote on it in June and other nations are moving forward.

It’s possible that six countries will ratify CPTPP by the end of 2018 or early 2019.

Unless a ratification bill is tabled this spring in Parliament or at the beginning of the fall legislative session, it will be difficult for Canada to be among the first six countries.

“The sooner it is tabled the sooner it can go through the House, the Senate and get royal assent,” Citeau said.

“Our ask is that Canada be in the first tranche of countries ratifying the deal…. Things take time, but the race is on and the world is not standing still.”

One possible reason for the lack of action on CPTPP may be the ongoing negotiations around the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Those talks, which continue in Washington this month, are the dominant trade priority for the federal government.

Citeau said that’s reasonable, but CPTPP shouldn’t be ignored.

“A lot of focus has been on NAFTA, rightfully so. But equally important is (the) CPTPP.”

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