Despite Ambiguity, Canada Sees TPP as All or Nothing

The Canadian government is still insisting that they have not made a decision on the TPP even after many international voices have said that everyone is committed to signing off on the deal. All this is happening even as the minister re-iterated the governments position that the TPP cannot be changed.

Last week, we broke the news to North American readers that all 12 countries of the TPP negotiations intend on signing off on the deal. The only real debate was where the signing was to take place.

The news follows repeated reports that the Canadian government has told the international community that it intends on signing off on the deal. Last year, US president Barack Obama explained to the Canadian media that Canada has sided with the TPP. In talking with Japanese Prime Minister, Trudeau said that he is committed to the TPP. Canada’s Agriculture Minister also publicly stated that saw nothing wrong with the TPP and is expected to be supportive of the deal. With multiple sources saying that the Liberal government supports the TPP, it may come as a surprise to some that there’s still those that believe that the government made no decision on whether or not to support the TPP.

That position was reiterated shortly after the news broke of the 12 countries intent on signing off on the deal, possibly in New Zealand. Right after that news broke, the Canadian government seemingly rushed the message out that the Canadian government hasn’t made a decision on its support for the TPP even after international voices basically beat Canadians with the obvious stick on the governments position. From the CBC:

Canada’s international trade minister says her government hasn’t decided whether it will participate in an expected signing ceremony for the Trans-Pacific Partnership in Auckland, New Zealand early next month.

“We are aware that some of the countries are talking about a signing in New Zealand. Canada hasn’t yet taken a decision,” Chrystia Freeland told reporters in Vancouver Tuesday.

Freeland’s holding a series of cross-Canada consultations about the 12-country Pacific Rim trade agreement.

While the position may strike some as odd, a follow-up report shows that the government is well aware that nothing can be changed or renegotiated even as they hold consultations on the deal. In November, the Canadian government had said that nothing in the text cannot be changed. To anyone reading the TPP deal itself, that part is quite clear and is not exactly breaking news anymore. Still, the Canadian government recently re-iterated that nothing in the deal can be renegotiated. From the report:

A renegotiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal is not possible even though serious concerns may be raised during public consultations, Canada’s trade minister said Thursday.

“The negotiations are finished and for Canadians it’s important to understand that it’s a decision of yes or no,” Chrystia Freeland told reporters Thursday after receiving varied feedback at a meeting at the University of Montreal.

Of course, the question that we raised before is still persistent. If this is a yes or no decision, and nothing can be changed in the text, then why hold public consultations unless the goal is political? Some Canadian analysts have begun raising this question as well. From the Globe:

University of Montreal political science professor George Ross wondered about the point of the government’s commitment to consult if changes are impossible because they would risk unravelling what had been achieved.

What we are seeing in all of this appears to be two positions the government has taken when it comes to support for the TPP. On the one hand, the Canadian government seems to have gone to the international community and practically told everyone that the deal is as good as signed. Then, they go to the Canadian public and have taken the position that they are on the fence, no decision was made, and that they are open to public consultations on the matter. Why the position?

One possibility is that there is a lot of political calculus involved. The government wants to put a fresh face on the international community. They want to maintain strong ties with other countries. As far as the government is concerned, committing to the TPP is a great way of doing so.

Meanwhile, back in Canada, Canadians have seen all the bad provisions found in the agreement’s text. A number of concerning provisions are found in the Intellectual Property chapter. Because this agreement was negotiated and finalized in the Harper era, many Canadians mistakenly believe that the TPP is a Stephen Harper thing and not something Trudeau even had a hand in. Since the Liberal party wants to distinguish themselves from the Conservative party, a great way of doing that is to simply say they are open to consultations and have not committed to the agreement. This gives the impression that they are open and transparent even if all the decisions have been finalized behind closed doors.

Also, by saying that this agreement is all or nothing, that puts a lot of pressure on Canadians to make a decision based on absolutes. Either you take the whole thing or you reject it outright. This might cause some people who are somewhat opposed to the agreement to go ahead and support it anyway. this gives the chance for TPP supporters to try and pressure Canadians any way imaginable to say support is the only option.

One possible move that might be coming is that Canada will sign off on the agreement last minute and tell everyone that they are open to opinions on ratification (the last critical step in making the agreement law). The problem is that once a country signs off on the agreement, they have a deadline in which they need to ratify the deal. That’s what makes signing this agreement such a critical step. Once the ink has dried, there might not be any going back.

In any event, the Canadian governments ambiguous position does make sense if you look at this from the “I support it, but I don’t want to look bad for supporting it” position. Expressing support for the TPP would make Trudeau look little more than Harper 2.0. The longer that image can be delayed, the better Trudeau looks politically.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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