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opinion

Lawrence Herman is a principal at Herman and Associates. He practises international trade law and is a senior fellow of the C.D. Howe Institute in Toronto

Like papal smoke appearing from the roof of the Sistine Chapel, we finally got a deal in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations.

What's been tabled in Atlanta is a large and complicated document, not surprising after five years in the making. It can't be explained in quick sound bites. It will take time to examine it and make a reasoned assessment of Canada's gains and compromises.

We do know that Canada has agreed to open up a relatively small part of its protected dairy market – about 3.25 per cent – as well as modest percentages of its poultry and egg markets, all of which are currently protected by high tariffs and low quotas. There will be a five-year phase-in.

Hardly the cataclysmic predictions we had heard. To the contrary, the dairy farmers' reaction to the deal has been surprisingly positive. Who wouldn't be with a $4.3-billion compensation package?

None of that will matter for New Democratic Party Leader Thomas Mulcair. He made it clear that the NDP would oppose the agreement, whatever it contained. It reminded me of the Groucho Marx song in the 1932 movie Horse Feathers:

I don't know what they have to say,

It makes no difference anyway.

Whatever it is, I'm against it.

No matter what it is or who commenced it – I'm against it.

Maybe Mr. Mulcair should talk to the dairy farmers to see if they really want Canada to reject the deal now.

In the auto sector, Canada managed to keep the percentage of total value of TPP content at 45 per cent for autos and higher-valued parts and 40 per cent for other parts, a drop from NAFTA thresholds but far better than the backroom deal cooked up by the United States and Japan last month.

Mr. Mulcair's position that Canada should have taken itself out of the talks until after the election was a peculiar take on the federal government's duties in critical international negotiations where events beyond Canada's control require full participation.

By opting out, Canada would have been a hapless bystander. Getting back in would have posed enormous difficulties – it probably wouldn't have been possible without making even more concessions.

By their nature, trade negotiations involve compromises. It's naive to think that Canada could insist on the deal's benefits without having to concede something on foreign access.

Too much attention has been focused on the issue of supply management. As many others have said in this paper and elsewhere, the Atlanta agreement is far broader and more extensive – covering 40 per cent of the global economy but extending well beyond tariffs, opening new markets for Canadian goods and services, all of which will support exporters across our economy. Not something Canada could walk away from.

Like all trade and investment agreements, this is really just a framework and a set of rules. Nothing happens automatically. Realizing newly opened market opportunities will be up to Canadian business. That also applies to dairy.

The formal text of the TPP treaty will be released when all the bugs are ironed out and the technical legal drafting is complete. In the meantime, all 12 governments have signed on, pledging to take the necessary internal steps to implement in the months ahead.

With the Atlanta marathon over, Canadians can judge the full package for themselves and decide whether it meets the national interest. They can look at the benefits and compromises and assess the deal on its merits. As Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said, Parliament will ultimately decide.

But that won't make any difference to Mr. Mulcair. Whatever its contents, no matter what the gains, whatever it is, he's against it.