There was a whiff of desperation this week in U.S. negotiator Michael Froman’s public gibes at Canada regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership, echoed plaintively by Ambassador Bruce Heyman. Of course, desperation in pursuit of legacy deals is very much in vogue in Washington these days. But, as with Iran, a deal for the sake of concluding a deal is not the best standard for TPP.
Mr. Froman and Mr. Heyman would be better to target more of their rhetoric at fellow Democrats, whose fervent opposition to TPP may well be the most serious obstacle to the deal’s success. Even Hillary Clinton, the party’s presidential nomination front-runner and once a champion of TPP, is backtracking steadily in the face of attacks from Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and the party’s surging left wing.
Nor is negotiating through the news media a constructive approach to any serious talks. Unfortunately, that seems to be the modus operandi in Washington: It’s called “grab and gibe,” and if President Barack Obama’s administration needs to throw somebody under the bus to get a deal done, it will do it.
Canadian International Trade Minister Ed Fast has shown no sign of succumbing to the public broadsides. Nonetheless, he might point out to his American interlocutors in private (if not in public) that a country that is failing to meet its obligations under existing trade agreements is hardly in a position to take the high ground in “final” TPP negotiations. Country-of-origin labels for meat imports; Buy America provisions; foot-dragging on the Keystone XL pipeline project and on permits for Canadian liquid natural gas projects – these are just a few of the recent practices that come to mind. All vitiate U.S. undertakings in the North American free-trade agreement and/or the World Trade Organization.
America’s other TPP negotiating partners might take careful note of a few of these facts before they are pressured to sign on the dotted line. The bloom of any agreement can quickly fall off the proverbial rose in Washington’s oppressive political heat.
Little noticed in the Obama administration’s stampede to get trade-promotion or “fast-track” authority from Congress was a tradeoff in which the U.S. Department of Commerce gained retroactively (!) tighter enforcement mechanisms for countervail (subsidy) investigations – the trade-remedy pride and joy of U.S. protectionists. These new provisions are at complete variance to standard WTO procedures. They may – indeed, likely will – dilute the value of any final TPP deal if they are allowed to stand and are an immediate source of some consternation for Canadian coated-paper producers.
No one really knows what additional concessionary hooks will be negotiated with Congress in order to get a final TPP agreement approved. At a minimum, Canada and its TPP partners should insist that U.S. trade-remedy provisions not be altered unilaterally to undermine access promised in the ultimate agreement. In short, a stringent standstill provision. In U.S. negotiating parlance, “trust but verify” should be the watchword for all signatories throughout the congressional approval process.
That said, the only real deadline at play is Mr. Obama’s own legacy and the view that, despite staunch opposition from his own party, he has a better chance of gaining congressional approval this year than next – an election year when the spotlight and public attention will have shifted to a different gladiatorial spectacle. In the meantime, his legacy and partisan jockeying in Congress are planting many devils in the details of an agreement.
Provided that there are significant new market access opportunities emerging from the deal, there may well be good reasons for Canada to sign a balanced, mutually beneficial TPP agreement and it may in fact necessitate, over time, some adjustments to our supply-management programs for dairy and poultry. Canadian consumers and food processors, especially in Ontario, will be the ultimate beneficiaries of such an adjustment.
However, that is a political judgment to be made on the basis of a careful calculation of the economic pluses and minuses of the overall accord.
But for countries like the United States and Japan to warn that Canada’s status in the negotiations may be in jeopardy while pretending that they are without sin in terms of trade protectionism is ludicrous. Their public berating of Canada’s position does no credit to their negotiating skills and simply masks an overweening desire to close a deal, any deal – deal fever at its worst. Far better to leave the theatrics to Hollywood in the interests of an agreement that is sound and serves everyone’s interests.
Bemoaning similar public “grandstanding” by Canada years ago, George Shultz suggested that “if you want to kick us, do it in private, we feel it just the same.” That’s advice all serious negotiators should take to heart, especially as the TPP negotiations enter the home stretch.