Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and key cabinet ministers attending the APEC meetings in Manila sought to charm business leaders this morning on the importance they attach to Asia.
Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland joined Trudeau at the meetings, which included representatives of Canadian banks, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and other groups.
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"Please take this gathering as a real sign of the absolute importance that our government is placing on Canada's business relationships abroad, our real conviction that trade and international trade is a hugely important path to the middle class prosperity, which is a central part of our mandate," Freeland told the group.
"It's great when we can create leaders' dialogues and talk about better collaboration and sign trade deals and partnerships," Trudeau told the group. "But if we don't then follow up with investment, with business ties, with job creation and strengthening economic exchanges, we're not doing the full work that we need."
The previous Conservative government was often criticized for not paying enough attention to the Asia-Pacific regions, though it did conclude a free trade deal with South Korea and led Canada into the recently completed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a 12-nation trade deal that will become the largest free trade zone in the world if ratified.
But Freeland wasn't committing the Liberals to approving the TPP, noting her government didn't negotiate it and the 6,000-page text was only released 12 days ago — the day after Trudeau was sworn in.
Compensation not guaranteed?
The deal is garnering intense opposition from dairy farmers because it will phase out quotas for Canadian dairy products, and by the country's largest private sector trade union, Unifor, which says it will lead to massive job losses in the auto sector.
The previous Conservative government promised $4.3 billion over 15 years to dairy and poultry farmers to blunt any losses from foreign compensation for both the TPP and the Canada-Europe Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA.)
But Freeland said the new government isn't just reviewing the text of the agreement, it's also examining the money the Conservatives promised to help out sectors that might take a loss.
"We appreciate the importance of compensation to affected sectors by TPP, and let me also say it would be very inappropriate for us to commit to specific packages given that we are actually reviewing the agreement."
Although the deal was announced during the election campaign, the 6,000-page text was not posted publicly until earlier this month.
When the deal was announced, negotiators estimated that the new market access offered to foreign dairy imports under TPP amounted to approximately 3.25 per cent of the Canadian market.
Based on the posted text, the Dairy Farmers of Canada estimates the impact will be between 3.4 and four per cent of the 2016 production forecast, resulting in a potential loss of between $190 million and $246 million a year for the Canadian dairy industry, should TPP be ratified.
"Everybody appreciates that we are a pro-trade government and everybody understands that we have to consult our people," Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion told reporters at a news conference. "Ratification is not tomorrow for [any] country so we'll have the time to engage Canadians seriously about this trade deal."
This APEC summit, Trudeau's first since being sworn in earlier this month, is his inaugural trip to Asia as prime minister. As he did at the G20 talks earlier this week in Turkey, he has caused a bit of a stir.
The Philippine Daily Enquirer ran a front page story with photos of Trudeau and Mexico's Enrique Pean Nieto asking who was more handsome. But the newspaper seems to have anointed Trudeau.
It said authorities have warned local journalists to avoid making ''giddy shrieks" in his presence.