International Trade Minister Ed Fast's office confirmed Wednesday he'll join other ministers in Maui, Hawaii later this month as talks towards a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal advance to the next level.
Negotiators haven't met as a group since their talks in Guam in May.
Since then, the U.S. Congress has granted "fast-track" negotiating authority, which gives American officials the mandate they needed to finalize a deal with the other 11 Pacific Rim countries at the table, including Canada.
- Trans-Pacific Partnership: Canada, Japan at odds over B.C. timber
- Canada can pursue trade deal while protecting supply management, Stephen Harper says
- Trans-Pacific Partnership? Never heard of it, Canadians tell pollster
Talks had stalled without assurances the U.S. was presenting an offer that Congress would ultimately approve.
Now, officials for the 12 countries will resume negotiations on July 24, hosted by the Americans. From July 28-31, trade ministers from each country will be at the table.
Trade negotiations typically begin with lower-level officials defining the common ground and working out technical details. But the more difficult negotiations on sensitive, political issues are left for talks at the ministerial level.
Last month, Australian trade minister Andrew Robb told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation the countries were "literally one week of negotiation away from completing this extraordinary deal."
With U.S. presidential elections in 2016 and a key Japanese election also scheduled for next year, proponents of the deal are under pressure to overcome domestic opposition and conclude talks in the next few months.
So close... or so far?
Stakeholders suggest much work remains — from market access talks for key commodities to intellectual property rights to labour mobility issues.
Canada's own bilateral trade talks with Japan, for example, had stalled over a number of contentious issues, including its timber exports. If the TPP deal succeeds, it would offer another way in to a key Asian market for Canada.
Some countries, including the U.S., had suggested Canada needed to dismantle its supply management system for some agricultural commodities, such as poultry, eggs and dairy, to even participate in these talks.
So far, however, Canada has remained at the table without conceding anything in these sectors, according to a stakeholder close to the talks. Other countries, the U.S. and Japan included, have their own sensitive commodities they're seeking to protect in the process.
When Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with U.S. Vice-President in Vancouver last weekend officials said the trade talks were part of their agenda.
'Essential' deal for Canada
Harper said last month it was "essential" for Canada to be part of the international trading network that could result from a deal.
However, "we are working to protect our system of supply management and our farmers in other sectors," he told reporters at an event in Quebec.
This end game represents difficult timing for Harper's government as it prepares for a fall election.
The TPP talks may require tricky political calculations at a time when ministers would otherwise be at home campaigning for re-election.
Fast's office reiterated Wednesday that Canada's goal was to "secure balanced outcomes that benefit all sectors of our economy, across all regions of our country." Canada would only sign if the deal "significantly benefits Canadian businesses, workers and their families," Fast's spokesman said.
The 12 countries at the TPP table are:
- New Zealand.
- United States.
If concluded, the deal would encompass 40 per cent of the world's GDP.