Minister of International Trade Ed Fast has reaffirmed Canada's commitment to supply management before crucial meetings for the Trans-Pacific Partnership that are set to begin in Hawaii on July 28.
"We have made it clear to our supply-managed sector that we will continue to promote their interests in all our trade negotiations, and that includes TPP," Mr. Fast said on Thursday while attending events at the Toronto Global Forum.
Some deal watchers have suggested negotiators may finally be able to reach an agreement in the next meeting, which will be the first time since May that ministers of all 12 participating countries will be at the same table. The United States passed "fast-track legislation" in late June that gives President Barack Obama more powers to negotiate a deal, including the ability to bypass amendments from U.S. Congress. In May, negotiators were unwilling to move forward without the President obtaining this trade-promotion authority.
Yet despite the optimism, many issues remain unresolved. Members of the would-be partnership, and in particular, the United States, oppose the supply-management systems that protect the Canadian dairy and poultry industries by regulating domestic production and putting high tariffs on imports. More recently, The Canadian Press reported that Japan wants controls on B.C. timber eliminated or modified.
Mr. Fast appeared to suggest Canada will not give in.
"We have negotiated with 43 different countries around the world – supply management has never prevented us from concluding those agreements, and we have confidence that we will be able to do that with the TPP as well," Mr. Fast said.
Other sectors fear a refusal to abandon the system would shut Canada out of a deal they see as essential to the country's economic future, particularly at a time when record low oil prices and a high trade deficit have heightened worries about the economy.
"It is of enormous economic, social and political importance," said John Kirton, founder and director of the Group of Eight and Group of 20 research groups at the University of Toronto. "The [TPP] would give us privileged access to the markets of the fastest-growing region of the world and affirm our identity as an Asian-Pacific power and partner."
The Pacific Rim-focused deal would be one of the largest free-trade agreements ever achieved, creating a market of 800 million people with a combined economic clout of $28-trillion (U.S.) annually.
Many have hoped that the low loonie would be a boon for Canadian exports, but a report on Tuesday said Canada's trade deficit was $3.3-billion (Canadian) in May – the eighth consecutive trade shortfall and the second largest in history.
"Right now, those who benefit from a low dollar have an opportunity to increase the bottom line, but remember we also compete in a global marketplace and those currency advantages are not as acute there," Mr. Fast said about Canadian exports to the U.S. "We expect that as we move forward, we are going to continue to encourage Canadian companies not to rely on a low currency to sell their products in a fiercely competitive global marketplace."