Asia-Pacific trade deal closer as log jams are broken, leaders say

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and 11 other world leaders said Monday they're inching ever closer to an agreement on the proposed TransPacific Partnership trade deal as a crucial year-end deadline approaches.

Barack Obama calls on China to level playing field for foreign firms, protect intellectual property

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, centre, and his wife Laureen take part in the group photo with other leaders at the APEC Summit in Beijing on Monday. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and 11 other world leaders said Monday they're inching ever closer to an agreement on the proposed Asia-Pacific trade deal as a crucial year-end deadline approaches.

On the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit, Harper sat down with U.S. President Barack Obama and the leaders of the 10 other countries negotiating an agreement on the TransPacific Partnership.

The leaders said in a statement following the high-level meeting, held under tight security in an auditorium in the U.S. embassy in Beijing, that the progress they've made in recent months "sets the stage to bring these landmark Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations to conclusion."

The statement added they are "intensively engaging to complete ambitious and balanced packages to open our markets to one another."

Obama sees progress

There have been dim hopes for a deal this year, largely due to a stalemate between the U.S. and Japan over whether the Japanese will open their borders to farm exports.

Obama, nonetheless, played the role of cheerleader in remarks at the beginning of the TPP meeting, urging his fellow leaders to spur on an agreement.

"During the past few weeks, our teams have made good progress in resolving several outstanding issues regarding a potential agreement," he said as Harper listened intently from across the room.

"Today is an opportunity at the political level for us to break some of the remaining log jams."

The U.S. has been pressuring Canada to open up its protected dairy and poultry sectors.

Harper and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met Sunday on the eve of the APEC summit. Japan issued a joint statement following their chat, saying the two leaders agreed on the "need to confirm the political determination to settle a deal."

The TPP joint statement a day later suggested there's been some success towards that goal.

"With the end coming into focus, we have instructed our ministers and negotiators to make concluding this agreement a top priority so that our businesses, workers, farmers and consumers can start to reap the real and substantial benefits of the agreement as soon as possible."

Harper also made a brief appearance at the APEC summit, posing for the so-called group photo with other world leaders. The smiling prime minister was situated behind Russian President Vladimir Putin for the photo.

It wasn't immediately clear if the two men spoke. Canada has vehemently condemned Putin's actions in Ukraine, and the two countries have swapped retaliatory sanctions for months.

Harper wraps up China tour

Harper was in China for four days in efforts to build closer business ties to China, a country that's been excluded from TPP negotiations.

The prime minister announced commercial and currency deals worth as much as $2.5 billion between the Chinese and Canada, and met with China's leadership, including President Xi Jinping.

"Next year marks the 45th anniversary of China-Canada diplomatic relations," Li said as he greeted Harper to the Great Hall of the People in the Chinese capital. "Our relationship will come to a new starting point."

Nonetheless, the story that dominated the news in smoggy Beijing on Monday was not the Harper visit, but another big energy deal signed between the Chinese and Russia.

The two countries inked agreements on Sunday to boost their energy co-operation, including a memorandum of understanding to develop a second route to supply China with Russian natural gas for the next 30 years.

Harper headed home to Ottawa late Monday to attend Remembrance Day ceremonies on Parliament Hill. On Wednesday, he's turning around and heading back to the Asia-Pacific region for meetings in New Zealand and to attend the G20 summit in Australia.

A look at some of the other agreements and initiatives announced during Stephen Harper's visit to China:

  • Foreign Affairs Ministers Dialogue and an Economic and Financial Strategic Dialogue: This agreement is designed to enhance bilateral communication and co-operation in the areas of foreign affairs and economic and financial matters.
  • Memorandum of Understanding on Nuclear Co-operation: Expansion of this agreement will help the Canadian nuclear industry increase its exports to China and generate jobs and growth in Canada's nuclear energy sector.
  • Air Travel: An updated Canada-China Air Transport Agreement allows airlines from both countries to offer more travel options for goods, services and people.
  • Transit Without Visa Program: Expansion of the Transit Without Visa Program and the China Transit Program adds China Southern Airlines to both programs. Travellers from the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Taiwan who normally require a visa to come to Canada are allowed to transit without a visa if they are travelling through Canada en route to or from the U.S.
  • Health sector: Both countries will co-operate more closely in several health-related areas, including joint research efforts on infectious disease prevention and control, chronic disease, traditional Chinese medicine, food safety, health innovation as well as health emergency preparedness and response.
  • Cherries: This agreement marks the normalization of cherry exports from B.C. to China, valued by the industry at $20 million annually. The two sides also agreed to sign a arrangement of intent to develop mutually agreeable conditions for export of fresh blueberries to China.

With files from CBC


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