Canada's bid to join the Trans Pacific Partnership free trade talks is getting a big thumbs-up in the United States, according Federal Trade Minister Ed Fast.
Speaking to reporters in Washington Monday, Mr. Fast said "well over" 90 per cent of submissions to the Obama administration from private-sector groups favour Canada's entry into the TPP. The U.S. comment period recently ended.
"That's great news," Mr. Fast said. "We believe there is broad, broad support for Canada playing a productive and constructive role in those negotiations going forward."
Americans recognize, Mr. Fast argued, that "Canada would bring a very high level of ambition to the negotiating table."
In a major trade policy shift, the Harper government announced in December that it would seek to join the TPP group – sweeping trade negotiations that already include the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Malaysia and Vietnam. Japan also wants in.
TPP partners had previously shunned Canada for being unwilling to put everything on the table in the talks, including the protective wall around dairy and poultry farmers.
Mr. Fast made the comments as he signed a two-year extension of the Softwood Lumber Agreement. The 2006 deal, which limits duty free access to the U.S. market, was due to expire in 2013. It will now run until 2015, without changes.
The extension provides "secure market access" while avoiding the devastation of U.S. trade sanctions, Mr. Fast pointed out.
Canada and the U.S. have continued to spar, even with the deal. The U.S. has so far won two complaints at the London Court of International Arbitration. A third, a complaint – that B.C. is exaggerating the amount of timber ravaged by mountain pine beetle to slash stumpage fees paid by mills – heads to arbitration next month. A loss could cost Canadian producers hundreds of million of dollars in extra duties.
"We are confident in our case," Mr. Fast said.
He added that he wouldn't prejudge what will happen in 2015. For now, the Canadian industry wants the deal to continue now. He promised Ottawa would consult again as the new expiry date nears.