UPDATE / 3.20pm: The on-again-off-again revival of the Trans-Pacific Partnership is back on after a confusing 12 hours in which Canada appeared to have walked away from the deal, but returned to the negotiating table claiming “a misunderstanding.”
Briefing New Zealand media ahead of the Apec Leaders’ Retreat in Da Nang, Viet Nam, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: “I wouldn’t want to speculate but I think probably we’re in a more stable place than we were yesterday.”
Asked whether Canada was back in the tent and TPP was back on she said: “I would characterise it in that way, yes.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau threw the future of the so-called TPP-11 into doubt yesterday afternoon by failing to turn up to a meeting of leaders of the 11 countries still working toward a new Pacific Rim trade and investment deal that is as much geopolitical as economic in its focus.
Japan has led the revival of the pact since Donald Trump withdrew the US from TPP in his first act as president in January. Yesterday’s Trudeau no-show was a major loss of face of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
However, Japan and the Apec host, Vietnam are now expected to issue a statement at 11am local time giving an update on the renamed Comprehensive Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) in which just four outstanding areas of contention remain.
Among the most sensitive for Canada is understood to be protection for automobile production, while Vietnam has been resistant to the pact’s insistence on minimum standards for labour and environmental practices.
Facing Canadian domestic political pressures similar to those faced by the New Zealand Labour-led government from the left of its support base, it appears Canada has pushed for the inclusion of the “comprehensive, progressive” wording to stress this is not an ‘old-style’ agreement focused only on trade.
One report, from local outlet CBC News, says the CPTPP will suspend the TPP's chapter on intellectual property.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) November 11, 2017
Trudeau: Now back at the negotiating table with new socks, and a new attitude.
New Zealand’s Trade and Export Growth Minister David Parker said the CPTPP’s “enforcement standards for labour laws and environmental standards and the right to regulate" were the strongest "that there has ever been in a trade agreement.
“In that sense, it is a more comprehensive and progressive agreement than has ever been agreed in a major multilateral agreement before and it’s important to some, including Canada, that that be referenced in the renaming of the text because there’s some misunderstanding about that out in the public.”
Ms Ardern said CPTPP was “a different deal from what was being negotiated at the time that the US was at the table … not least because there have been some suspended clauses which were important to NZ in particular.”
However, prominent anti-TPP campaigner, Jane Kelsey from the University of Auckland law school, said in a statement based on a leaked text of today's progress statement that she was “‘disappointed, but not surprised" that the Labour government had largely endorsed the TPP agreement signed up to by the previous National Party-led government "with the suspension of a limited range of items”.
She released a leaked version of the leaders’ statement expected this morning in Vietnam, saying “the US and its companies will get large benefits for no price.”
The US remains outside the agreement, at least during a Trump presidency, but negotiators hope the world’s largest economy will rejoin a trade bloc that Japan has championed in part because it represents a bulwark against rising Chinese geo-political influence.
Ardern raises eyebrows
Ardern raised eyebrows among some TPP leaders by her frank, early admission to media travelling with her yesterday that the TPP leaders’ meeting had failed.
Australian ministers initially attempted to play down the Canadian no-show before officials briefed their travelling media that there was anger at the Canadian performance.
Canadian media reported a defensive stance from Trudeau’s contingent, who sought to characterise the no-show as a “misunderstanding” about the schedule and the intention to try to conclude a way forward on TPP at Da Nang. Canadian press reports said the meeting “did not happen” and that New Zealand and Australian media reports were “blaming” Canada for the breakdown.
Trade ministers reconvened overnight while APEC leaders attended the traditional leaders’ banquet, where Ardern said she exchanged pleasantries with Trump, including a “standard” handshake, a reference to the president's penchant for extended gripping with counterparts.
She was seated at the dinner with Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but did not directly discuss the plight of Rohingya Muslim refugees who have been subject to ethnic cleansing by the Burmese military, which holds the key to her political position as State Counsellor, akin to prime minister status.
Ardern said she had discussed her constitutional relationship with the Burmese military.
Trudeau is reported to have had “very direct” talks with Aung San Suu Kyi about the human rights abuses against the Rohingya yesterday while at APEC.
My thanks to Nguyen Cong Hiep from the Canadian Consulate for showing me around the streets of Ho Chi Minh City today… pic.twitter.com/ca40o8w5yc
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) November 9, 2017
Jacinda Ardern told media there was simply no information on Canada's position. On his social media accounts, PM Justin Trudeau appeared to have a tourism and photo-op focus.
EARLIER / 8am: Trudeau no-show throws TPP in doubt
Canada's Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, has failed to turn up to a crucial meeting of leaders of the 11 leaders of countries still signed up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, in Da Nang, Viet Nam, throwing into serious doubt the anticipated conclusion to negotiations of the stalled Pacific Rim trade and investment pact.
The future of the long-fought deal is unclear as the Da Nang negotiating session was seen by many of the 11 signatory nations as the final opportunity to revive the agreement, which lost the participation of the United States when Donald Trump withdrew from TPP in his first act as president in January.
However, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told New Zealand media in Da Nang that there was simply no information to go on as to Canada's position.
"We'd all be guessing at this point but it's certainly fair to say that in the here and now, there's been a postponement," she said. "It's difficult to say what position Canada will take from here. It's a significantly different deal without Canada in it."
At this stage, there had been no discussion of taking TPP down to a 10-member agreement, she said.
"I cannot say whether or not they have formally withdrawn but I can say that they were not there. I can't give you a clear indication of Canada's final position because they were not there to convey that to us."
Mr Trudeau is expected to come under heavy pressure from other TPP leaders at tonight's gala dinner for the 21 leaders of the Apec economies, who are meeting in Da Nang for their annual summit. However, he will find a friend in President Donald Trump, whose speech to an Apec CEOs' meeting here today stressed a preference for bilateral trade agreements rather than deals involving multiple countries which he said had failed the US, the world's largest economy.
However, Canadian ministers have said in recent days they are in no hurry to conclude TPP, which raises difficult conflicts for Canada as it faces efforts by the Trump administration to renegotiate or abandon the North American Free Trade Agreement, which is of far greater value today to Canada than the TPP might be in the future.
As the most protectionist of the developed economies involved in TPP, Canada has also faced significant opposition from its dairy and other agricultural producers, although access to the highly protected Japanese beef market is attractive.
Lucky break for Ardern
Japanese leadership saw the so-called TPP-11 box on without the US, although the change of government in New Zealand saw the country once seen as the original champion of the deal becoming a problem as it sought to water down the investor-state dispute settlement provisions that allow corporations to sue governments – an issue that has galvanised opposition to the TPP agreement.
In that sense, a TPP failure that is not caused by New Zealand is not a major political problem for the new New Zealand government, since it would be no worse than other countries left standing at the altar while facing no domestic backlash from political supporters who would see Ardern's support for TPP-11 as a retreat from Labour's anti-TPP rhetoric prior to the election.
"New Zealand was at the table because we had made good progress on the issues we were concerned about," she said. "It was certainly our intent to see some level of conclusion."
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