Canada has stayed out of TPA debate, feds insist‘A lot to be done’ before Pacific trade talks are completed.
Published: Wednesday, 06/24/2015 12:00 am EDT
Canada’s government has watched from the sidelines as American political interests have gone to the mat over legislation holding up Trans Pacific Partnership talks, unlike its much more aggressive approach lobbying for the Keystone XL pipeline, say a former diplomat and a government spokesperson.
Progress on the TPP deal has been stalled since the Guam round of negotiations at the end of May, as the parties waited to see whether the United States government would secure trade promotion authority, say lobbyists, interest groups and trade watchers.
That authority—which would force the US Congress to vote on trade agreements without having an opportunity to amend them— has crawled through a series of close votes in the Senate, the House, and back in the Senate again in the past days and weeks.
Republican Congressmen in both Houses have worked together with US President Barack Obama’s administration to pass TPA, which the majority of Democrats have resisted. Business and labour groups have loudly advertised their opposing positions on the legislation, which many have framed as a proxy vote on the TPP.
When asked whether Canada was lobbying Congress in support of the TPA legislation, Trade Minister Ed Fast’s spokesperson Max Moncaster, said TPA “is for US lawmakers to decide” and that Canada has been “monitoring” the situation, in an emailed statement.
Canada’s government has boosted the TPP as a part of its efforts to open new markets for Canadian business. But this time it has likely stayed out of what is “very much an American” TPA debate because the harm of doing so could outweigh the benefit, said Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat who worked in Washington, Los Angeles and New York.
“What you don’t want to do is play into the hands of the adversaries, who would say, ‘this is all about outsourcing jobs’,” said Mr. Robertson, adding staff in the Canadian embassy in Washington would be watching the TPA deliberations “very closely.”
TPA no Keystone XL
Canada’s government took a much more aggressive approach a few years ago when US legislators, interest groups and the White House were at odds over the future of the cross-border Keystone XL pipeline, another economic project close to the heart of the Harper government.
The government ran a $24 million public relations campaign in the US, with adds popping up in the Washington metro, and Canada also lobbied on the issue heavily. Later assessments would conclude the ads were largely ineffectual.
Mr. Obama himself has lobbied Congress intensely to pass TPA—a key difference between the two issues from a Canadian perspective, said Mr. Robertson.
Lobbyists and trade watchers on both sides of the border said they were optimistic Congress would pass the trade promotion authority legislation in a June 24 vote, and that the White House would sign the bill quickly.
If TPA is secured, TPP negotiations would move to the most politically sensitive areas, particularly agricultural and intellectual property protections, said Canadian and US lobbyists.
Progress on the negotiations may be quick, but it could be some time before the deal is done, said Ron Davidson, a spokesperson for the Canadian Meat Council.
A “legal scrub” and translation of the text into the many languages of TPP members will likely need to be completed before a deal is signed and made public, he said. Even if everything goes smoothly, “there’s a lot to be done.”
Mr. Davidson said he is hoping to see Canada secure an agreement in principle completed this summer, but he was not confident an agreement could be finalized before Canada’s federal election in October.