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Trans-Pacific traders ready to add Canada at table

A number of nations chilly to Canada’s supply-managed dairy, egg and poultry systems and ag supports are nevertheless ready to bring Canada into a new set of free trade talks.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Tuesday announced the support of all nine current members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) for Canada and Mexico to join negotiations on a TPP free trade agreement.

The nine TPP members, including the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Brunei Darussalam, now must each formally ratify the entry of Canada and Mexico. An application to the TPP from Japan remains pending.

Canada would then take its seat in the TPP talks "at the earliest opportunity thereafter, expected to be early this fall."

The current TPP members’ next round of negotiations runs from July 2 to 10 in San Diego.

"A TPP agreement will enhance trade in the Asia-Pacific region and will provide greater economic opportunity for Canadians and Canadian businesses," Harper said in a release.

Participation by both Canada and Mexico, if ratified, would boost the TPP’s total market to 658 million people, representing gross domestic product of $20.5 trillion, up from 510 million people and $17.6 trillion among the current nine members.

The Asia-Pacific region, the Canadian government said Tuesday, is "one of the world’s fastest-growing economic regions, with a growth rate of two to three times the global average. Being well-positioned in the region is critical to Canada’s economic growth and long-term prosperity."

Observers suggest the TPP talks could also give Canada a chance to broaden free trade and reduce trade "friction" with the U.S.

The 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), for instance, "was based on old trade paradigms that no longer reflect the realities of trade today," UPS chief operating officer David Abney said in a speech Tuesday in Toronto.

"Inconsistent"

Canada’s application to the TPP hasn’t gone uncriticized. New Zealand’s trade minister Tim Groser, for one, said in November that Canadian supply management is "completely inconsistent with tariff elimination."

More recently, the U.S. National Pork Producers Council publicly said Canada’s entry to the TPP talks "should be contingent on renunciation of its trade-distorting subsidies," citing risk management programs for hog farmers in Quebec and Ontario as examples.

Supply-managed commodity groups such as Egg Farmers of Canada say they’ve been "clearly assured" by federal ministers that TPP participation "would not result in Canada abandoning its poultry, egg and dairy supply management systems."

The Reuters news service on Tuesday quoted Harper — when asked if supply management would be put on the TPP table — as saying there were no conditions attached to Canada’s entry into the TPP talks.

"Destinations"

Other Canadian commodity groups, meanwhile, warn Canada stands to lose if it doesn’t get in on the TPP.

"Of the 11 other countries that have joined or are prospective members of the TPP negotiations, 10 are already destinations for Canadian meat products," Canadian Meat Council executive director Jim Laws said in a release.

"In the absence of Canadian membership in these critical negotiations, Canadian meat exports would have become progressively disadvantaged in the dynamic and growing trans-Pacific marketplace."

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, for another, said it believes all TPP countries should eliminate their import tariffs on all live cattle, bovine genetics, beef and beef products.

The CCA also recommended all TPP members should commit themselves to conform policies with international animal health guidelines established under the World Animal Health Organization (OIE).

"We recognize a real opportunity in the Asia-Pacific’s growing population and growing middle class which are looking for the high-quality agriculture products that our Canadian farmers are producing," Grain Growers of Canada executive director Richard Phillips said Tuesday.

Related stories:
Canada wants in on Trans-Pacific trade pact, Nov. 14, 2011
Supply management not in ‘dress code’ for TPP club: N.Z., Nov. 24, 2011

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