TPP: The disaster that didn't happen for dairy and auto sectors
Fears of a catastrophic blow fade as Trans-Pacific Partnership details emerge
Is Halloween approaching? Are the kids in bed? Good. Don't tell them, but the big, hairy TPP monster — the ogre that would chew up the dairy farmers and slam the auto sector into reverse — isn't very scary after all.
For weeks, the apprehension has been spreading, fanned by fearful farmers driving their cows to Parliament Hill, that the Trans-Pacific Partnership would gut the dairy industry and wipe out 20,000 auto jobs.
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A flood of foreign milk would drown the farmers, we were told. The auto parts companies would be buried in a pile of cheap Asian dashboards!
So, it was more than a little anticlimactic to see the reaction of these poor souls when the deal was announced, leaving them facing certain extinction.
Any last words? Actually, no.
Never mind the piles of press releases from business groups lauding the TPP as manna from heaven; those are expected. In any trade agreement, the benefits tend to be widely spread, while the pain is concentrated on particular sectors — and, generally, the latter can be counted on to squeal.
But consider, first, the statement from the Dairy Farmers of Canada. Ready?
Here goes: "We recognize that our government fought hard against other countries' demands, and have lessened the burden by announcing mitigation measures and what seems to be a fair compensation package, to minimize the impact on Canadian dairy farmers."
Hmm. Not exactly a cry of pain, is it?
Of course, the dairy farmers had feared a tide of foreign competition, possibly losing five to 10 per cent of their protected domestic market. Instead, foreign farmers will be allowed only 3.25 per cent of the Canadian market. And if that sounds too much, don't weep too bitterly, because Canada's farmers will be helping themselves to that "fair compensation package" for 15 years to come.
"Fair," meaning a cool $4.3 billion. Yes, that does seem, gulp, pretty fair.
But what about the doomed auto sector?
So the Great Dairy Disaster didn't happen. And, by now, you can tell what became of the Great Auto Apocalypse.
Sure enough, the Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association issued a bleat of mild concern.
"These new reasonable terms," it murmured politely, "will have varying effects on Canada's automotive parts manufacturing. On one hand, prospects to supply vehicle assembly in foreign markets will open for large Canadian suppliers with multinational footprints and access to mobile capital. On the other hand, small and medium-sized suppliers to Canada's vehicle assembly supply chain will face new competitive pressure."
Yeah, sure, whatever. Apparently, the car guys are not about to march on Parliament Hill with pitchforks and flaming torches.
Instead, they say, "the 81,000 people employed in the Canadian automotive parts manufacturing sector are fairly evenly split between companies facing new opportunities and those facing new challenges."
So says Flavio Volpe, the president of the manufacturers' association. And, thanks a lot, Flavio — that'll make a really exciting headline.
2 weeks to go
So, what effect will these non-disasters have on the election campaign?
With two weeks to go, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper was ebullient — OK, ebullient by his standards — in applauding the agreement.
Canada could not afford to be left outside the agreement, he said.
"The gains are simply too significant to be missed."
For his part, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said he'd examine it, but emphasized the Liberals were always "pro-trade." Pressed to say if that meant he approved of the deal, Trudeau nearly said yes by emphasizing that his party was "resolutely and consistently pro-trade."
The odd man out was NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, who seemed much angrier about the effects on the dairy and auto sectors than the dairy and auto sectors.
Mulcair greeted the news as if it were, indeed, the catastrophe that was advertised. In the auto sector, he thundered, "Twenty thousand jobs will be lost!"
He went on, "While Justin Trudeau goes along with Stephen Harper's secret deal, selling out our auto workers and our farming families, I repeat again, I will not be bound by Stephen Harper's secret deals."
Cynics are saying that this just means Mulcair is now in "save the furniture" mode — meaning he knows his poll numbers are headed south and is trying to save what seats he can by rallying the left-wing base.
Another theory is that saying he won't be bound by the deal and saying he'll refuse to ratify it are two different things. If the election produces a minority Parliament, the TPP could become a bargaining chip. Perhaps Mulcair could relent, saying he never promised to rip it up?
If that's what he has in mind, though, he's got a long way to climb down. As it is, Mulcair is essentially telling voters that if they like free trade, they should vote for the other guys.
And, at this rate, maybe they will.