Saturday February 06, 2016

TPP would make it harder for Canada to innovate, Jim Balsillie warns

Listen 11:29

Ratifying the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal would seriously impede Canada's future prosperity, according to Jim Balsille, the former co-CEO of Research In Motion and co-founder of the Institute for New Economic Thinking.

​"We're in an innovation deficit in this country and when you find yourself in a hole, the first rule is stop digging. What TPP does is it locks in that competitive advantage [for other countries] which makes it much, much harder for Canada to become an innovation nation," Balsillie told host Chris Hall on CBC Radio's The House.

"When we look at this 10 years from now, we'll see how we've locked ourselves in and how this was such a poor strategy," he said.

Canada's international trade minister, Chrystia Freeland, signed the TPP deal in a ceremony in New Zealand this week, kicking off a two-year ratification phase.

She reminded her 11 TPP counterparts that Canada's approval process will begin with broad consultations on the agreement before the government considers formally ratifying the agreement. "We are committed to a full parliamentary committee study and a full parliamentary debate ahead of ratification," she said.

While the signing is a "very important moment," it's "only a first step," Freeland added.

The Toronto-area minister refused to answer questions last week about whether the consultations could yet shape the contents of the already-negotiated deal, saying it was "not very wise to answer hypotheticals."

Balsillie said he's been told by Freeland that Canada wasn't in a position to renegotiate the deal. If that's the case, he argues TPP shouldn't be ratified.

"If you look at it, Canada comes into TPP with an innovation deficit in commercializing our ideas. What TPP does is enshrine the in-club and the out-club of innovators, because it advantages those with pre-existing positions of owning [intellectual property] and sophisticated capacities both in their economy and companies," he said.

Balsillie's position is in stark contrast to B.C. Premier Christy Clark, who warned in a separate interview with Hall that not ratifying the TPP will leave Canada "shut out" of international trade with Asia for a generation.

Canada's innovation problem

Balsillie argues one of the main issues with the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal is that it would lock in the innovation "upper hand" that some countries have over Canada.

"Our innovation outputs have not grown in 30-plus years, in spite of hundreds of billions of input, and we're now competing, really, by lowering the dollar, which I think is a race to the bottom. And then we're entering into agreements where we lock in our competitive disadvantage," he said.

He is now pleading with the new Liberal federal government to come up with an innovation strategy.

"If you don't get it right, Canada's prosperity will continue to erode," he said.

"If you own valuable ideas and commercialize them, then yes, you get higher-paying jobs, more prosperity, more tax revenue to pay for the things we value so greatly in this wonderful country."

The final text of the TPP has been legally "scrubbed" in English, French and Spanish and posted online by New Zealand.

The 12 signatories are: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States and Vietnam.