With NAFTA in a deadlock, Parliament returns ready to talk Asia-Pacific trade

As NAFTA negotiations reach a standoff and the Canada-U.S. relationship seemingly on the rocks, the Liberal government is using the return of Parliament to talk about a different kind of trade.

1st thing Liberals and Conservatives want to pass is the TPP trade deal

Jim Carr speaks to reporters following question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on May 29. Made International Trade Diversification minister in a summer cabinet shuffle, he will be defending the Trans-Pacific Partnership this fall in Parliament. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

With NAFTA negotiations in a standoff and the Canada-U.S. relationship seemingly on the rocks, the Liberal government is using the return of Parliament to talk about a different kind of trade deal.

One of the first things members of Parliament debated when they returned to their seats today was Bill C-79, the legislation to implement the free trade pact between Canada and 10 other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

The deal was signed in March and legislation to ratify it was introduced in the House of Commons in June.

"We have just under a dozen pieces of legislation that are on the order paper. When we return we are looking forward to seeing the CPTPP legislation advance," said government House leader Bardish Chagger.

The government claims that once the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) enters into force for Canada, it's expected to boost the country's GDP by $4.2 billion.

Shortly after the government introduced the bill, Conservative MP Ed Fast sought unanimous consent to pass it through all legislative stages in the House of Commons, but was blocked by the NDP.

International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr picked things up on Monday, calling the deal a "call to action."  He took over the portfolio during this summer's cabinet shuffle, which also saw the word "diversification" added to his title.

And the Tory benches are promising something not always on display in the House of Commons — support.

"We're really interested in seeing the legislation around the Trans-Pacific Partnership signed and ratified immediately. Our leader Andrew​ Scheer had sent a letter to the prime minister offering that we come back for a week or so during the summer. Let's get that deal signed," Conservative House leader Candice Bergen said in an interview with CBC.

"In relation to NAFTA, it's really important that we have other trade agreements. So we're hoping that comes forward quickly and we would like to see that passed very quickly."

NDP won't give unanimous consent 

The NDP is promising to put up a fight.

"Our big battle is going to be on the TPP front. We definitely think there are a lot of issues. There are a lot of concerns about it," said Matthew Dubé, the party's caucus chair.

"We know that this has an impact on workers. It has an impact on cultural content and things like that in a way that is quite serious. So while we recognize that we want to diversify trade with everything that is going on with NAFTA, to think that we would pass legislation like that without debate, with unanimous consent, is not acceptable."

NDP MP Matthew Dubé says his party's 'big battle' is going to be arguing against the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The original 12-member Trans-Pacific Partnership deal negotiated by the previous Conservative government was thrown into limbo early last year when U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement to prioritize protecting American jobs.

However, the remaining 11 member countries – Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam – led by Japan, continued with a revised trade pact.

When, during question period, NDP trade critic Tracey Ramsey asked whether the government will "take the CPTPP off the table," Carr was blunt: "no."

"Trade means growth and growth means jobs," he said.

NAFTA, pipeline to dominate question period

While CPTPP is first up on the order paper, the Opposition still plans to raise the government's record on renegotiating NAFTA.

"There is no doubt that top of mind is​ NAFTA and the impact that the tariffs are having and the impact that not getting an agreement will have on local jobs and on businesses as well as steel and aluminum and a lot of other sectors in the country," said Bergen.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland will be in the House of Commons on Monday, but is expected to return to Washington this week for another round of high level talks with her American counterparts.

The U.S. and Mexico already have reached an agreement in principle and are threatening to move on without Canada if Ottawa isn't ready to sign by Oct. 1.

With the countdown to the 2019 federal election ticking, the Opposition is also vowing to use the return of Parliament to go after the Liberals on pipelines in the wake of this summer's federal court decision on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, as well as their carbon price plan and their record on ethics.

Last week the conflict of interest commissioner found Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc violated conflict rules by awarding a lucrative fishing contract to a company set to be run by one of his wife's first cousins. 

With files from the CBC's Elizabeth Thompson and the Canadian Press


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