Canada and 10 other countries agreed this weekend to re-evaluate the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the controversial trade deal that has been assumed dead since the U.S. pulled out in January.
However a Canadian group opposed to the TPP says the deal should not be revived.
Trade officials said the deal would change significantly without American involvement, although leaders from the 11 remaining countries are still figuring out what a revised trade plan would look like.
In its current form, the partnership requires U.S. participation before it can go into effect. But a revised TPP wouldn't be as simple as taking the U.S. out of the existing deal: each of the 11 remaining countries will have to re-evaluate its own trade needs absent of American involvement.
Ministers attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) in Hanoi, Vietnam this weekend discussed taking another look at the terms of the deal. Officials from the countries involved, which include Australia, Malaysia, Mexico, and Singapore, among others, have agreed to present assessments to their leaders when they meet for an annual APEC summit in Vietnam in November, which will also include U.S. President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Since the U.S withdrawal, Japan and New Zealand have been spearheading efforts to revive the deal. Both countries have ratified the agreement and moved forward on legislation related to the deal. But Canadian officials stress that even the countries most enthusiastic about the previous agreement understand that it must be significantly altered before it can move forward.
New Zealand Trade Minister Todd McClay said the remaining countries are open to others joining provided they accept the trade agreement's high standards on labour and environmental protection. He said the door remains open to the U.S., even after President Donald Trump withdrew from the pact in January, saying he prefers bilateral free trade deals.
Supporters of the agreement argue that opening the Canadian economy to foreign markets could benefit sectors including forestry, manufacturing and agriculture, especially production of canola, beef and pork. But there are also concerns about intellectual property provisions, including patent extensions, as well as the potential for job loss within Canada.
Sujata Dey, trade campaigner for the social action organization The Council of Canadians, called the TPP "a huge corporate power grab" that should be abandoned completely rather than re-worked. The group takes particular issue with the policy's investor-state dispute settlement, which allows companies to sue governments over any regulations that reduce their profits.
"These trade agreements are old-school because our world problems have changed," Dey said, citing environmental crises. "Until we stop copying and cutting the old trade agreement that we've been doing for the last 30 years, it's not going to be a trade agreement that works for our new reality."
In response, a Liberal government official who did not want to be named indicated that the concerns of Canadians will be taken into account in formulating a new deal. Trying to sell a new version of the TPP to the public that doesn't include free and progressive fair trade would be an uphill battle for the federal government, he said.
The China-led 16-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership will meet Monday in Hanoi to further discussions on a separate deal seen as an alternative to the TPP. It is expected to be finalized by the end of this year.
With files from the Associated Press