National Newswatch

Almost a month has passed since Canada ratified the CPTPP trade deal and there’s no sign yet that the government is ready to introduce implementing legislation to approve Canada’s participation in the Pacific trade pact.

A spokesman for Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said, “There is no time line yet on when we will move forward.” Parliament returns from a two-week recess on April 16 to an already crowded agenda including the government’s budget bill and dealing with the transportation modernization sent back by the Senate with 19 amendments.

CPTPP approval has been overshadowed by President Trump’s renewed rantings about NAFTA being a bad deal as well as the looming trade war with China over steel and aluminum tariffs. A NAFTA negotiating session was expected in Washington in early April to follow up on the one in Mexico in March that made some progress but no date was set.

The White House then talked about having a deal in principle ready for the Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru starting April 13. There was also reports of a late April meeting hoping to pressure Canada over a reprieve on the steel and aluminum duties they could be hit with on May 1. That fell flat when Canada and Mexico said they would be not be rushed on NAFTA.

Chris White, President and CEO of the Canadian Meat Council, echoed the feelings of much of the agrifood sector when he told the Senate agriculture committee recently that “if we don’t have legislation really quickly on CPTPP, we will lose the ability and the comparative advantages that we could have had.

“The six countries that ratify the soonest will be able to access those markets in a way that Canada won’t be able to if we come late to it,” he said. The agrifood sector has been telling the Trudeau government “that the sooner you get legislation before the house, committee and then the Senate will only help Canadian industry.

“If there’s anything you could do to encourage the government to get legislation in front of the Commons, that’s imperative,” he told the Senators. “Our concern is that the longer it lags — you will be into the summer recess and then won’t be back until the fall, so we might not see legislation and potentially ratification not much before the end of 2018-19. Who knows what that landscape will look like.

“Given the volatility of the American administration, it’s quite possible the Americans could decide to join the TPP deal, and then the advantage that Canada currently has would be lost.”

John Masswohl, Director of Government and International Relations for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, told the committee, “We would certainly encourage the government to present a bill to the house, then have it come to the Senate and encourage swift passage of that because on Day 1 of the CPTPP being implemented, we will match the tariff access that Australia already has into Japan and, of course, we will have that advantage over U.S. beef.

Champagne signed the CPTPP deal for Canada in Chile on March 8 and since then virtually every agrifood organization and countless of other business groups have urged the government to move quickly on implementing legislation.

The deal will enter into force 60 days after six countries ratify it and several members are expected to do so by this summer, says Brian Innes, President of the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance. CAFTA wants Canada in the first wave to gain full advantage of the initial tariff cuts.

“Having preferential access for the first time to Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore will fire up the agrifood sector’s engine and move us toward the government’s ambitious target of $75 billion in agri-food exports by 2025.”

Implementing CPTPP will give Canada new free trade agreements with seven countries in the Asia-Pacific and update existing trade agreements in Latin America with Mexico, Chile and Peru. The big prize in the deal for Canadian agrifood exporters is Japan, Canada’s third-largest export market and a high value and stable market for agrifood products, importing $4 billion of Canadian exports every year.

Alex Binkley is a freelance journalist and writes for domestic and international publications about agriculture, food and transportation issues. He’s also the author of two science fiction novels with more in the works.

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