Trans-Pacific Partnership? Never heard of it, Canadians tell pollster

A new poll suggests three in four Canadians have no idea that Canada is one of 12 countries immersed in negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Australian trade minister says a final deal is 'one week of negotiation away'

Gus Van Harten of Osgoode Hall Law School on why Canadians may not know of the Trans-Pacific Partnership 8:25

It's the biggest free trade deal Canadians never heard of.

A new poll suggests three in four Canadians have no idea that Canada is one of 12 countries immersed in negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The poll was conducted by Environics Research Group for Trade Justice Network, an umbrella group dedicated to challenging the secretive process by which international trade deals are generally negotiated.

Fully 75 per cent of respondents said they had never heard of the TPP before being asked about it by the pollster.

The telephone poll of 1,002 Canadians was conducted June 3-12 and is considered accurate within plus or minus 3.2 percentage points, 19 times in 20.

The 12 countries involved in negotiations include the United States, Mexico, Australia, Japan, Chile, Vietnam and Singapore; they represent a market of almost 800 million people and a combined gross domestic product of more than $25 trillion.

The federal government maintains the TPP would enhance trade in the Asia-Pacific region, providing greater economic opportunity for Canadians.

In a statement, Trade Justice Network spokesman Martin O'Hanlon called it "deeply disturbing" that so few Canadians are aware of the partnership talks.

The network maintains the secret negotiations are being conducted with the guidance of multinational corporations and with no input from labour leaders, environmentalists or even MPs.

"It's frightening that this can happen in a democracy," O'Hanlon said.

'One week away'

The U.S. Congress has only a few weeks left to pass key trade legislation that would clear the way for clinching the TPP, Australia's trade minister said on Wednesday.

The House of Representatives last week rejected legislation crucial to American involvement. Andrew Robb would not speculate on how continuing negotiations in the House of Representatives might end.

"We are literally one week of negotiation away from completing this extraordinary deal across 12 countries and 40 per cent of the world's GDP," Robb told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

"You can see the political heat's rising by the day over there because of the presidential election next year. So I don't think anyone can call it. But if it's not dealt with in the next two or three weeks, I think we've got a real problem with the future of the TPP," he said.

Meanwhile, Australia has stepped up its strategy of locking its major trading partners into a series of country-to-country deals.

Australia, which has a free trade deal with the United States, on Wednesday inked a similar deal with its biggest trading partner, China, after a decade of negotiations.

Australian free trade deals with South Korea and Japan took effect in December and January respectively. Australia and India hope to reach an agreement this year.

Legislation to enhance President Barack Obama's authority to negotiate such trade deals was dealt a setback Friday, mainly by members of his own party. Obama and his legislative allies were scrambling for ways to revive that effort, although Democrats and Republicans alike said all options face serious hurdles.

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