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Canada's bid to join Pacific trade pact faces long odds

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, left, and Trade Minister Ed Fast sign the Softwood Lumber Extension Agreement in Washington in January.

KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS

Trade Minister Ed Fast talks a good line about Canada's chances of getting on board the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade deal.

But some trade experts say the bid is looking increasingly like a long-shot.

"It's likely going no-where, even though Ed Fast has been going all around the Asia-Pacific region, touting Canadian participation," said Lawrence Herman, a trade lawyer with Cassels Brock in Toronto.

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The main stumbling block for Canada is the tight year-end deadline set by the United States and the eight other current TPP members for completing negotiations.

Canada, along with Japan and Mexico, asked to join the TPP earlier this year. The talks now include the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Chile, Peru, Vietnam, Singapore Malaysia and Brunei.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk told reporters in Washington Tuesday that he's focused above all on getting a deal with the original TPP partners, who began a week-long round of negotiations in Dallas this week.

"If the nine of us don't produce an agreement. . . within the near term, it doesn't matter" about the other countries joining, Mr. Kirk said.

"If we get overly obsessed about what happens down the road and we don't make the hard decisions to produce . . . an agreement within the reasonable foreseeable future, it won't matter. So the most important thing is to work on what we're doing now."

Canada challenge is that its entry is tied to bids by Japan and Mexico to join, Mr. Herman suggested. Either they all get in or none of them do, he said.

Just last week, Mr. Fast returned from visits to Australia and New Zealand insisting that Canada's TPP bid was gaining support.

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"All TPP members have welcomed Canada's interest, and momentum is building in support of Canada's entry into the TPP talks," Mr. Fast said in a statement.

"Canada is being recognized as a valuable partner to join the negotiations."

Mr. Herman pointed out that Canada's problem isn't just tricky timing. It's also substance. He said the country's "unacceptable" delay in passing copyright reform legislation and its "shameful to-the-wall defence" of the protected dairy and poultry industries is causing resistance.

"The Harper government may have to find some face-saver and explain why, after all this effort, we've been rebuffed," Mr. Herman said. "Being excluded from the TPP makes talk about Canada being a Pacific gateway country sound a bit hollow."

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About the Author
National Business Correspondent

Barrie McKenna is correspondent and columnist in The Globe and Mail's Ottawa bureau. From 1997 until 2010, he covered Washington from The Globe's bureau in the U.S. capital. During his U.S. posting, he traveled widely, filing stories from more than 30 states. Mr. McKenna has also been a frequent visitor to Japan and South Korea on reporting assignments. More

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