Canada to join TPP talks in Hawaii despite ag concerns

Date
Text Alex Kekauoha

The much-debated Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement continues along a bumpy path to fruition. After struggling to secure fast-track authority from congress last month, President Obama hopes to conclude trade talks next week when the U.S. hosts a meeting of TPP leaders in Hawaii. While the U.S. appears to be on its way to entering the agreement, Canada seems to be grappling with one major clause of the deal.

Canadian officials are concerned with several provisions in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, including healthcare costs, intellectual property rights and privacy. But the biggest problem for Canada remains rules governing its agriculture industry. For months the U.S. has been pressuring Canada to lower agricultural trade barriers under a TPP deal. With a population of over 35 million people (just less than California) Canada is a market that could help make some U.S. farm exports surge.

But Canadian legislators, as well as farmers, worry that opening up farming markets could hurt their own economic interests. In Canada, the supply of farm products like dairy and poultry is capped in order to keep prices high. Lowering trade barriers would increase foreign competition and drive down prices, hurting Canada’s farming industry, which generates billions of dollars each year under current regulations. Officials there have been slow to make a decision and it’s still unclear whether Canada will succumb to U.S. pressure. Much of the delay is due to the country’s upcoming election, which has legislative hopefuls being careful not to make political missteps on this issue and risk votes.

Dairy and poultry trade adjustments were not negotiated back in the 90s under the North American Free Trade Agreement. Now, top U.S. officials see the Pacific Rim talks as America’s opportunity to expand exports and have been urging Canada to make an offer on agricultural trade. The U.S., however, is losing patience with Canada and there has been talk among U.S. lawmakers of continuing TPP negotiations without their northern neighbor.

“If any of the 12 countries currently in the talks think our standards are too high, well, I'd complete the agreement without them and invite them to join it later,” said Congressman Paul Ryan in a speech given earlier this year to the Washington International Trade Association. And numerous media reports have claimed Canada could pull out of the deal altogether, but so far that hasn’t happened. Canadian Trade Minister Ed Fast is expected to attend next week’s trade talks in Hawaii, which could be a turning point for the agricultural industries in both Canada and the U.S.

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