Canada confirms participation in post-TPP talks next month in Chile

Donald Trump may have packed up his tent, but Canada will join other signatories to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement when they meet next month in Chile to figure out how to proceed without the United States.

Donald Trump nixed U.S. participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but other signatories carry on

International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne's office confirms he'll join other signatories to the Trans-Pacific Partnership at talks in Chile next month to figure out how to proceed now that the U.S. has dropped out of the deal. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Donald Trump may have packed up his tent, but Canada will join other signatories to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement when they meet next month in Chile to figure out how to proceed without the United States.

International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne's office confirmed his attendance at the meeting, but told CBC News the date had not yet been fixed. Other reports say the talks will be held March 14 and 15.

"We owe it to Canadian workers and to Canadian families to really be engaged with our partners, to look at what we can do to remain, to have access to, these very important markets," Champagne said on his way into question period Friday.

"I think that's what Canadian expect of us," he said. "The world is looking at Canada today when it comes to open, progressive trade."

The TPP was signed over a year ago at a ceremony in Auckland, New Zealand. Twelve Pacific Rim countries negotiated the deal: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.

Signatories had two years to ratify the deal for it to come into effect. While one or two smaller countries could drop out, countries comprising at least 85 per cent of the combined gross domestic product of the 12 signatories needed to meet the deadline.

It could not proceed without both the U.S. and Japan. On Jan.23 Donald Trump signed an executive order signalling the Americans were out.

'Absolutely relevant' without U.S.

The TPP text as originally negotiated is over 6,000 pages long. It goes far beyond tariff reductions and market access provisions to set common rules to govern trade and services across a broad range of things, including intellectual property rights, labour regulations and environmental standards.

Trump's order leaves remaining partners in limbo: theoretically still agreeing to common principles reached, but in need of at least some new negotiations before proceeding with ratification now that the largest economy in the deal, the U.S., is out of the trading bloc.

President Donald Trump signs an executive order to withdraw the U.S. from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership on Jan.23. He said the U.S. will only negotiate bilateral deals under his leadership. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

For example, some market access or tariff trade-offs may have been worth it in return for gains from the Americans. But without the U.S., countries may no longer be willing to make the same concessions — the math has changed.

Some TPP chapters may be transferrable to a future arrangement between the remaining countries. If the will to proceed exists, they may not need to re-invent everything.

There's also the question of whether new countries — most notably for Canada, China — could join.

'I don't want, and I know a number of other countries don't want, those gains to slip through our fingers'- Australian minister Steven Ciobo

On the day Trump signed his order last month, Chile's foreign minister, Heraldo Munoz, invited ministers from the 11 other TPP members, as well as China and South Korea, to the March summit to discuss how to proceed.

While some TPP countries, including Mexico and Japan, moved to ratify TPP before knowing what the U.S. would do, Canada's Liberal government didn't go any farther than holding public consultations on the deal, which was negotiated by the previous Conservative government and completed during the 2015 election.

Conservative critics have called out the Liberals for not putting any of their political capital into promoting the TPP while its future was uncertain.

Champagne's office didn't immediately confirm his attendance when the March talks were announced last month.

It's unclear if every country will attend, but Munoz said then he had received positive responses at a high level, according to a Reuters report last month.

Australia's trade, tourism and investment minister Steven Ciobo said in a Bloomberg Television interview this week that the TPP text remains "absolutely" relevant without the U.S.

"There were a lot of hard-fought gains that were achieved over intense negotiations over many years in relation to the TPP," Ciobo said. "I don't want, and I know a number of other countries don't want, those gains to slip through our fingers."

Japan, Mexico key partners post-TPP

Canada already has bilateral trade deals with some TPP partners, such as Chile.

But the TPP was a way to overcome Canada's difficulty negotiating a bilateral trade agreement with Japan, a large and valuable market with a stated preference for wider-ranging trade deals, as opposed to negotiating with partners one at a time.

As Trump signed an executive order to pull the United States out of the TPP, Chile's foreign affairs minister, Heraldo Munoz, invited the remaining 11 signatories, plus China and South Korea, to a summit to talk about how to proceed. (Cliff Owen/Associated Press)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is in Washington Friday to meet with Trump, who wants to negotiate only bilateral deals from now on.

Japan has been part of negotiations with China, the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Australia, India, New Zealand and South Korea towards a new deal called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP.) 

The Chinese market is the largest in RCEP, and the kind of deal it wants may not be as comprehensive or as progressive as the TPP ambitions were under the leadership of former U.S. president Barack Obama.

Continuing to engage in post-TPP discussions would also continue Canada's trade dialogue with Mexico at a time when the threats and shifting priorities of the new Trump administration have cast doubt on the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA.)

A future post-TPP deal could be a vehicle to enshrine Canada's free trade relationship with Mexico in another agreement.

"This year is the year of trade," Champagne said Friday, pointing to the phrases in his new mandate letter tasking him with promoting Canada's trade with China, India and Japan specifically. "My counterparts are calling."