Canada Chases the TPP Holy Grail
Image Credit: Office of the Canadian Prime Minister

Canada Chases the TPP Holy Grail


Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s proclamation at the APEC Leaders meeting in Honolulu last November of Canada’s formal expression of interest in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade talks marked a stunning reversal of Canadian policy. Up to that point, Canada had feigned disdain for the TPP, and publicly stated that it wouldn’t agree to join a negotiation where it would have to agree to a priori conditions.

Canada had been asleep at the switch when the TPP, which had begun life modestly as a grouping of just four small economies (New Zealand, Chile and Singapore, joined at the last moment by Brunei), expanded its membership at the APEC summit in Peru in 2008. The TPP had limited traction until the administration of George W. Bush, looking for an initiative to take on the trade front in the face of a hostile Congress, latched on to the TPP as a possible vehicle to promote trade liberalization, potentially leading to a future Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP). Once the United States was on board, Peru, Australia and Vietnam all enthusiastically signed on through unilateral declarations. Malaysia expressed cautious interest and was eventually admitted. Canada, still mired in a minority government that hadn’t yet bought into the realization that Canada’s future lies as much, or more, in Asia rather than across the Atlantic or exclusively in North America, did nothing.

Over the past couple of years, though, the TPP has started to gain momentum. With the reaffirmation of U.S. commitment by the Obama administration, negotiations started in earnest in 2009, leading to a declaration in Honolulu in November 2011 at the APEC Summit that the TPP leaders had achieved the broad outlines of an “ambitious 21st Century agreement.” They expressed the hope that the agreement will be completed by the end of this year.

As the TPP started to move toward reality, and as Canadian trade relations with Asia continued to mark time (Canada has signed a number of free trade agreements in recent years, but none with an Asian economy), Canadian officials started to realize that they were on the outside looking in. They quietly started to sound out the United States on the possibility of Canada joining the negotiations, but it’s fair to say that Canadian participation wasn’t a U.S. priority.

First, there was the issue that adding participants would complicate a negotiation that was already challenging, given the varied economic interests of the participants, ranging from fully developed economies like Australia and New Zealand to emerging, state-directed economies like Vietnam. Second, there were some very real concerns regarding Canada’s willingness to make a positive contribution to achieving the kind of ambitious outcome the U.S. was seeking. Canadian intellectual property rights (IPR) laws were notoriously lax, and several attempts to update them had gone nowhere. Canada has also always been keen on carving out a wide exception for a broadly-defined range of “cultural industries.”

This is something not designed to appeal to important interests in the U.S. and, perhaps of more importance to New Zealand than the United States, Canada clung to an outdated supply-management system for dairy, eggs and poultry, the effect of which was to more or less seal off the Canadian market for these products (with the exception of specialty items that couldn’t be produced in Canada). In short, Canada wasn’t really welcome at the table, although no one wanted to say so publicly, and Canada didn’t want to run the risk of a rebuff by asking publicly.

March 6, 2012 at 10:02

Independence? trudeau’s utopian multi cultural society imposed on canadians as part of the forced marriage between quebec and canada sowed the seed for the eventual dissolution of canada as a united country. canada should stay well away from free trade agreements and stick to agreements that are in the interests of canada and its citizens. Canada for Canadians. The global plutocrats can find some other country to rape.

Kaptain Kanuck
February 29, 2012 at 11:55

“USA’s economic colonization of Canada.”

I guess you haven’t been to Vancouver lately, eh?!

John Chan
February 27, 2012 at 23:11

@Kaptain Kanuck,
Unfortunately most Canucks agree with you, they like to be the best lackey for the world biggest bully, barking in front of the bully makes them feel good; that’s why they have governments since Trudeau behaving the same way regardless the Conservative or the Liberal.

Criticizing the USA will get more hostile response from media, and the Canucks than bad mouthing Canada; and deep integration with the USA is the term used to gloss up USA’s economic colonization of Canada. That’s the mentality of Canucks, no wonder you bad mouth Trudeau’s independence spirit despite his resistance to the USA’s dominance is token.

February 27, 2012 at 14:12

Canada has a very protected and uncompetitive market. Opening up in order to join the TPP will inevitably lead to higher unemployment rates and lower wages in Canada.

Kaptain Kanuck
February 26, 2012 at 13:48

John Chan, Canadians should NOT emulate the era of Pierre Trudeau on the international stage, Trudeau was a poor statesman; as an extremely naïve pseudo-intellectual and traitorous slimy little weasel…

February 25, 2012 at 08:47

Stephen Harper, Rob Nicholson, John Baird and Vic Toews would turn our country into an Orwellian nightmare! Canada needs to rise up and occupy the parliament, remove the Conservatives from power, followed by some good old fashion tarring and feathering, finish with banishing from Canada! Finally Canadians need some laws that allow us to force referendums on the government and punish corrupt politicians who think they can screw with their people, their employers, you and me!

People shouldn’t fear the government, the government should fear the people!

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