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Canada has a place in trans-Pacific free trade zone, Harper maintains

Prime Minister Stephen Harper dismissed claims by New Zealand that Canada has no place in a trans-Pacific free trade zone, during an event at Science World in Vancouver, B.C. Friday, Nov. 25, 2011.

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is dismissing claims by New Zealand that Canada has no place in a trans-Pacific free trade zone, while maintaining high protective tariffs on poultry and dairy products.

Here to attend Sunday's Grey Cup game, Mr. Harper told reporters Friday that Canada's bid to join the talks, which currently involve the United States and eight other countries, was based on specific criteria spelled out by the Trans-Pacific Partnership at the recent APEC summit.

"It was clear to [us]that Canada's level of ambition for trade talks would meet or exceed everything that the TPP, itself, specifically put out," said Mr. Harper.

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Earlier this week, New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser laced into Canada for seeking a place at the TPP table, despite tariffs ranging from 150 to nearly 300 per cent to protect dairy and poultry farmers. Mr. Harper has pledged to "resolutely defend" the trade barriers.

Mr. Groser said the goal of the Pacific free trade talks is to get rid of all protective tariffs. "When our leaders said 'eliminate' [them]and other direct barriers to imports, they meant it."

It would be difficult for Canada to be admitted to TPP negotiations without a clear commitment to tear down its trade walls, he said.

But Mr. Harper shrugged off the New Zealand minister's comments.

"Every country goes into negotiations with interests that are sometimes offensive in nature, sometimes defensive," he said. "That's the same for every single country that's involved in those particular negotiations."

Some have suggested that a Trans-Pacific Partnership pact would eclipse the long-standing North American Free Trade Agreement in economic importance.

Besides the United States, negotiations involve Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Vietman, Malaysia, Brunei, Chile and Peru. Japan, Mexico and Canada have asked to join the talks.

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The potential dustup with New Zealand, the world's largest dairy exporter, comes at a time when Canada is seeking to expand trade with Asia to drive job growth in the country.

"We remain concerned about the number of Canadians who are still out of work," said Mr. Harper, speaking at the newly-renovated Science World, which benefited from $10.5 million in federal funds.

"We need to keep protecting and promoting our advantage in what is a struggling global economy....and we're expanding Canada's trade in the world's fastest growing markets."

On other topics, the Prime Minister said Canada will not ban shark fin imports, despite a growing campaign to end their use in soup, nor will the government consider legalizing and taxing marijuana, as called for by Mayor Gregor Robertson and four former mayors of Vancouver.

"That will not happen under our government. We're strongly opposed to the legalization of drugs, and we're very concerned about the spread of drugs in this country, and the damage that it's doing to our kids," Mr. Harper said, in response to a reporter's question.

"As you know, we've got legislation before the house to crack down specifically on drug traffickers."

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As he spoke, about 30 members from Occupy Vancouver protested outside the geodesic dome of Science World. Several put up signs saying: "Harper hates science."

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