Despite the eagerness of some trading partners, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada is in no hurry to sign a revised Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) this week at the APEC summit in Vietnam.
"Let me remind everyone Canada will not be rushed into a deal that is not in the best interest of Canada and Canadians. I have always been very clear that I will stand up for Canadian jobs, for Canadian values, that's exactly what we will do here," he told reporters at a joint news conference with Vietnamese prime minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc after an official state visit.
Trudeau's comments Wednesday leave open the possibility Canada could sit on the sidelines while other countries put pen to paper on a new deal.
- Trudeau travels to Vietnam with history, human rights and trade top of mind
- Canada's progressive push for the updated TPP might not come so easy
While some observers thought TPP was left for dead after U.S. President Donald Trump pulled his country out of the agreement in January, the other 11 original signatories, including heavyweights like Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, have pressed ahead with talks to secure a pact that would eliminate tariffs on industrial and farm products across a bloc whose trade totalled $356.3 billion last year.
Trade ministers, including Canada's François-Philippe Champagne, are meeting in Da Nang, the site of the APEC meeting, to hammer out a revised deal before national leaders descend on the resort town later this week. Some TPP partners hope to have something signed by the weekend, with reports suggesting renewed talks are now in the "final stretch."
Liberal government sources have sought to tamp down such optimism, something that was affirmed publicly by the prime minister as he spoke to reporters Wednesday.
'Progressive' trade deals could be tough sell in Asia
"Our ministers are very much engaged and working hard on this issue of TPP11. Canada is very much engaged in discussions of how we can move forward in a way that is beneficial to Canada and our partners. We believe progressive, solid trade deals can help citizens in all sorts of different countries."
Indeed, Canada is pushing for the addition of more "progressive" elements to the trade deal, much like what the country's negotiators have called for in the ongoing NAFTA talks.
In particular, Canada has sought the inclusion of chapters on the environment, labour rights and gender equality, sources told CBC News.
It could prove to be a tough sell for some TPP countries, including Vietnam, where tolerance for dissidents is low, and human rights are frequently under threat in the face of the communist regime.
Human rights observers, including Conservative Senator Thanh Hai Ngo, a Vietnamese-Canadian and a frequent critic of the regime, have shamed the country for its draconian measures to crack down on free expression, assembly and religion (the faithful have to register with the government to legally worship), and its affinity for plainclothes police officers who spy on citizens, jail bloggers and allow poor working conditions in the country's many textile factories.
Human rights included in joint agreement
After a nearly 30-hour voyage to Vietnam, Trudeau embarked on a whirlwind tour of the country's political centre, Hanoi, once the centre of north Vietnam, meeting with the country's top officials and members of the politburo.
Amid the red and gold glitz of the presidential palace — including statues of revolutionary hero Ho Chi Minh, and a plethora of hammer and sickle symbols — discussion between the two leaders focused mainly on the trade file, but a "joint partnership agreement" signed by the two country's leaders includes a commitment to redouble efforts on improving human rights.
"That's something that matters a great deal to Canadians," Trudeau said.
While Phuc promised to foster deeper economic ties with Canada — Vietnam is already Canada's largest trading partner in the southeast Asia region — and co-operate more closely in the face of North Korean aggression, he, unlike Trudeau, did not mention the human rights section of the joint agreement in his closing remarks.
The agreement itself is vague and simply commits the two countries to promoting human rights "in conformity with their own constitutions and respective international agreements," giving Vietnam a relatively wide berth.
Before meeting with the country's leadership, the prime minister hosted a roundtable with civil society groups.
Among the attendees were Le Quang Binh, a member of Vietnam's LGBT community, Nguyen Van Anh, an advocate for women's rights and people living HIV/AIDS, Vu Cong Giao, a lecturer on human rights at the country's law school.
Trudeau also hosted Nghiem Thi Kim Hoa, a woman who started an online forum for public discussion about human rights, a rarity in a country where freedom of expression is largely nonexistent.