Canada's trade minister dismissed an effort by U.S. senators to address currency manipulation through the Trans-Pacific Partnership, saying the 12 countries involved in the sprawling trade talks have enough on their plates already.
"We believe a macroeconomic issue like currency issues should be dealt with outside a specific trade negotiation," Ed Fast said in an interview. "We have a significant number of issues still left to resolve and we have established a process under which those issues are going to be resolved."
Mr. Fast made the comment after a series of meetings in the U.S. Capital, including with Iowa Republican Charles Grassley, one of 60 senators who recently signed a letter to Trade Representative Mike Froman and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew that calls on the administration to use the trade negotiations to crack down on countries that selfishly manipulate their exchange rates.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, is central to Canada's trade strategy as it could spark commerce in a group of Pacific countries that includes the United States, Japan, Vietnam and Australia. Prime Minister Harper has put trade at the heart of his economic policy, and the Bank of Canada says the country's economy won't return to normal growth without a stronger contribution from exports.
There's little reason to think President Barack Obama is eager to include currency policy in the TPP talks, as the issue would irritate Japan and some other Asian participants. Still, the administration must keep lawmakers onside because Congress will have the final say on any trade agreement.
Mr. Fast also spent time with Mr. Froman Thursday and he said the currency issue played no part in their discussions. "We focused on the issues that presently are in play within the TPP itself," Mr. Fast said.
When asked if negotiators were on track to complete an agreement by the end of the year, as is the stated goal, Mr. Fast said: "There still are some significant issues that have to be grappled with. We've made a commitment to our partners to do everything we can, to try to one by one, resolve the outstanding issues that still remain."
Mr. Fast's visit to Washington was something of a landmark, as it was his 10th trip to the U.S. capital since taking over the trade portfolio in 2011. The achievement reflects a more aggressive attempt by Mr. Harper in recent years to bolster Canada's presence in Washington, using regular visits by cabinet ministers to strengthen relationships with their counterparts in the administration and with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Lately, the lobbying has centred on the Keystone XL pipeline. Mr. Fast said he emphasized – again – that the controversial pipeline proposal is about "North American energy security, and has benefits for both countries."
Besides Mr. Froman and Mr. Grassley, Mr. Fast met Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker; Michigan Republican Dave Camp, a key figure in the House of Representatives; and Charles Boustany, a Republican congressman from Louisiana.
Mr. Fast's other agenda item was a new U.S. requirement that meat from other countries be clearly marked as such, a demand that has disrupted the North American beef industry.
Canada and Mexico contend the law is a protectionist measure that violates international trade rules. Mr. Fast said he told the lawmakers that they should resolve the issue in the Farm Bill, omnibus agricultural legislation that must be approved before the end of year. He didn't say how that message was received.
"We had open and frank discussions with them and impressed upon them that this is a very important issue for Canada and that we look forward to solving it in the short term," Mr. Fast said.