OTTAWA – Ontario and Quebec’s agriculture ministers are worried about the details of any Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and are heading to Atlanta to shadow their federal counterpart this week.
They’ll be accompanied by representatives from the Canadian dairy industry. It’s a gesture designed to remind federal Trade Minister Ed Fast of a federal-provincial promise made this summer to “preserve the integrity of the supply management system.”
Quebec Agriculture Minister Pierre Paradis said there’s concern that Canada is facing undue pressure from other countries and that without the presence of the provinces and industry, the negotiators could give up too much.
“We want the minister, who left the federal campaign to go down there, to feel that this is a big deal, that all of the Canadian jurisdictions want to remind him of the agreement in Charlottetown,” said Paradis, referring to federal-provincial meetings.
Paradis participated in a news conference Monday from Longueuil, Que. with representatives from the dairy industry.
Negotiators for the 12 countries involved are into the final stages of hashing out an agreement, which would include some sort of concession from Canada on access to the dairy market.
Trade ministers are to meet in Atlanta towards the end of the week. Fast was one of the first to announce he would attend.
A last round of talks in Hawaii over the summer ended without an agreement. The Canadian dairy industry, which includes roughly 12,000 farmers, sent observers to those meetings, too. Negotiations around a Canada-Europe Trade Agreement ended with Canada opening up its market to European cheese.
A loosening of the “country of origin” rules around how much of a car built in Canada could come from someplace else is another point to be agreed upon. Harper conceded at a campaign debate earlier this month that the auto industry might not be pleased with the TPP deal.
Another contentious issue is intellectual property and the length of time a pharmaceutical company can keep data about a drug confidential and out of the hands of generic producers.
Canada’s sets a threshold of eight years for the drug industry, while the United States wants it to be 12. With many other national standards even shorter than Canada’s, there is a belief Canada won’t need to make any adjustment.
The TPP situation is an unusual one – the country is in the midst of an election campaign, but negotiators have had to plow ahead, lest the TPP train leave the station without Canada aboard.
The Conservatives appear poised to use any deal sealed on the TPP to their advantage on the campaign trail.
New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser said in a newspaper interview last week that, “the Canadians are negotiating as if there’s no election.” New Zealand is one of the most aggressive voices in favour of scrapping trade barriers in the dairy industry.