Canada hopes to join a pan-Pacific trade pact in the first half of this year, Trade Minister Ed Fast said on Tuesday, but is committed to maintaining contentious tariffs that help its farmers, though some see them as protectionism.
Canada says it has won the public support of six of the nine member countries involved in negotiating a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and is trying to muster support from the rest to secure its entry to the group.
The TPP talks currently include nine countries – the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei. Mexico and Japan also want to join.
"We hope to have it done this year, in fact the first half would be even better," Mr. Fast told Reuters in an interview on a visit to Chile.
"Any free-trade agreement involves give and take," he added. "We're prepared to discuss all issues at the table. But we've also made a commitment to our farmers that our government will continue to defend Canada's system of supply management."
Some countries are reportedly irked by the supply management system, which protects Canada's farm sector with output quotas and prices, as well as import tariffs.
"That's no different than any of the other TPP partners, because in any trade negotiation, the parties to those negotiations bring certain areas of historical sensitivity to the table. They defend those vigorously," Mr. Fast said.
Canada has removed around 1,800 tariffs over the past two years, removed the monopoly of the Canadian wheat board and bolstered the country's intellectual property regime, in particular copyright, he said.
"So we've made very significant strides forward in continuing to remove trade barriers," Mr. Fast said. "Canada has been very clear on the issue of protectionism. We believe protectionism is toxic to the global economic recovery."
Canada and Chile widened their own 1997 free trade agreement on Monday to include an amendment that will give Canadian financial institutions preferential access to the Chilean market.