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International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland is embarking on cross-country consultations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)
International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland is embarking on cross-country consultations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

LAWRENCE HERMAN

How should Canada see the TPP? Depends on how we see the world Add to ...

As International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland embarks on her cross-country consultations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, her opening question should be a fundamental one. It comes down to how Canadians choose to view the world.

Do we view the world mostly as users of goods and services produced by others? Or do we see ourselves as makers, innovators and providers of goods and services to the global marketplace? Do we see the world as confined mostly to our own backyard? Or as an increasingly open market with vast opportunities on a global scale?

In may seem simplistic, but this is the first question Ms. Freeland should be asking Canadians.

The question is pertinent in the intellectual property (IP) field, for example, a subject that has drawn high-profile criticism from some who claim that the agreement will stifle Canadian innovation and entrepreneurship. A lot of these criticisms are hard to understand. Barry Sookman, one of Canada’s leading IP experts, has looked at these, including the TPP provisions on protecting works dispersed through the Internet, and answers these points, carefully and cogently, on his blog. It’s worth reading. He says the critics are off-base.

Take the TPP’s provisions on patents. There’s an obligation for governments to extend patent terms for pharmaceuticals when the patent owner faces undue delays in getting marketing approval, and to give eight years of protection to proprietary clinical data for biologic patents.

The argument that these are somehow inimical to Canadian interests is strange, since these provisions are in line with Canadian law as it now stands.

If Canada sees itself as a place to encourage innovation and promote research and development and commercialization of homegrown patents – as opposed to being users of other people’s inventions or waiting for patents to expire to have proprietary access – shouldn’t we be seeking ways to ensure that other countries grant our patentees maximum exclusivity rights?

While it’s true that the IP agenda in the negotiations was driven by the U.S. team, there is a large degree of common interest here. Our objective should be to ensure that Canadian patent rights are fully protected in parts of the world where legal systems are less mature. That’s what TPP does.

Initially, these strengthened IP obligations will apply among the 12 TPP parties. But the agreement may be expanded to include other countries, notably, China – or at least serve as a template for bilateral negotiations. Shouldn’t we be promoting greater levels of protection for Canadian patent owners in that country, modelled after the TPP agreement, given that one of the main concerns by Canadian companies doing business in China is the non-transparency, arbitrariness and uncertainty of China’s IP laws?

In the area of copyright, there’s criticism over the TPP’s extension of protection for written works to the author’s life plus 70 years. Canada currently has a life-plus-50-year term, so the TPP will just require us to bring this into line with most of our major trading partners.

Is this really harmful to the broad Canadian public interest? There’s no restriction on access to the millions of copyright works Canadians have access to now. We’ll just have to wait a little longer for copyrights to expire to get $1 pulp editions of these works. But it means the estates of Canadian artists and authors will collect royalties for 20 additional years. Is that any reason to walk away?

Asking Canadians’ view of the world is equally relevant in the debate over Canada’s supply-management system, a highly contentious and highly criticized regime that protects producers of milk, poultry and eggs from foreign competition, all for the sake of a steadily declining domestic market.

Even though the TPP, like the Canada-EU agreement, opens our protected dairy market by a modest degree, we see supply-managed producers fighting a last-ditch battle, unwilling to face the inevitable forces of international competition, and too timid to embrace new opportunities for Canadian products in expanding global markets.

Again, it comes down to how we see the world. Canada could, and should, be a global powerhouse in dairy – like tiny New Zealand. Instead, dairy, poultry and egg producers fight for the right to remain small.

These are not the only areas of controversy. There are others, where critics take the standard defensive view, a limited zero-sum analysis by looking only at the concessions and ignoring the gains and potential benefits. A nation with a truly global outlook is more interested in the latter.

The other question Ms. Freeland needs to ask is this: What will happen if Canada remains outside the TPP agreement while the Americans, Japanese, Mexicans, Australians and others are in? Would it be in the national interest to stand aside while others share rights of greater market access, higher standards for IP protection and a range of other market-access preferences that Canadian exporters of goods, services and investments won’t have?

We need to consider that carefully.

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Also on The Globe and Mail

Chrystia Freeland on TPP: 'We are a trading nation' (The Globe and Mail)

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