Federal Election to make any TPP agreement tricky: Canadian Chief Negotiator for NAFTA

According to many reports, the talks on the Trans Pacific Partnership are nearly complete.

And as we close in on the completion of the talks, the country’s chief negotiator during the formation of the North American Free Trade Agreement believes there are some parallels to be drawn to that of the talks leading up to a deal on NAFTA.

Earlier this week, John Weekes told Rural Roots Canada when they were getting close to having a deal on NAFTA there were many who felt a final agreement was still a ways off.

“There was some disagreement about that even among some of the senior Canadian officials involved, they thought it was going to take months to finish this and then we were done within a week of that,” said Weekes.

The negotiations have brought some strong opinions from different sectors of agriculture.   Weekes says we have seen this before.

“The government in past negotiations tried to say they had a balanced position, for the agriculture sector, but frankly we’ve reached the point where it is not really possible to be able to conclude a major trade negotiation without offering some concessions in the supply management sector on those products.  But I think a lot of people are kinda viewing this as the government throwing supply management out the window, but what’s really happening I think is they are going to offer some additional concessions in allowing imports of those products.  So it will put some additional pressure on the industry, but it’s certainly not the end.”

The former ambassador to the World Trade Organization says the dairy industry is already under a great deal of pressure in any event.

“There’s been some new techniques developed in terms of manufacturing things called non-fat protein substances that are used in the making of cheese and these things hadn’t really developed the industrial processes that led to this when we first set-up the system.  So these things are coming in duty-free under the North American Free Trade Agreement and last year these substances got up to a quarter of a billion dollars worth of imports.”

He says this is really causing big problems for the dairy industry and they need to find answers.

“There are people within that industry that are starting to look at what kind of reform is going to be needed in order to put that industry back on a sure footing and I think you are going to see a greater interest on their part in participating in international markets.  So while everyone is focused on the TPP and the challenges it poses for dairy and poultry they’ve got some other big challenges as well, it’s possible that looking back on TPP 10 years from now might be seen as part of the solution instead of just a problem for them.”

Weekes says if we aren’t part of this deal it would be a disaster for our red meat and grain and oilseeds.

“If we weren’t part of the TPP, then the Australians, the New Zealanders, the Americans would get into the Japanese market with lower tariffs heading down to zero for most of the agricultural products we’re interested in. Our industry would be left out in the cold still paying the high duties that are there today like 38.5 percent on beef.”

Weekes said the negotiators from the different countries involved have kept their cards close to their chests, so it is hard to say exactly how this will match up against NAFTA.

Weekes says even when they reach an agreement, there are still some hurdles to be cleared before the agreement can be signed, which will make things tricky for Canada, because the signing will come after the Federal Election at which time there could be a different party from the one that negotiated the deal in power.

“This is going to be something the next government of Canada, whether it is Conservative or whoever is going to have to decide whether or not they are going to sign this agreement. I think this poses a bit of a challenge for the opposition parties during this election cause clearly there is a lot to be lost by not going through with it, there are obviously some difficulties if you do go into it, but they are going to have to weigh all these options.”

He says this is amplified by the prospect that there could be a minority government.

“In that kind of environment a political party, even if they become the government, they will be held to account in terms, ‘Well you said this two months ago and you didn’t say that.’  which is something you can get away with if you had a majority government, because you could just wait for four years.  But if it is a minority situation it could be very tricky.”