Canada is determined to reach a final deal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, though the government will safeguard the country’s highly restricted dairy and poultry markets “as best we can,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said.
While Canada has defended its protectionist system of quotas and tariffs, known as supply management, in previous trade talks, it’s become a sticking point in TPP negotiations. The 12-country pact is too big to pass up, Harper said in an interview Wednesday at his Ottawa office.
“Given that we are a trading nation, and given the global economy is the way of the future, we cannot be left out of this kind of trade arrangement,” Harper said. “The government is at the table making sure it protects the interest, as best we can, of every Canadian industry. We have made commitments to sustain our supply management system and we are working to achieve that.”
Officials from Asia-Pacific nations including the U.S. and Japan are meeting in Hawaii in a bid to finalize a deal that’s been in the works for six years. Trade Minister Ed Fast joined talks Tuesday.
Discussions on the trade pact are “well advanced,” Harper said, but he would not “speculate on when it will be concluded.”
Harper’s government has pressed to sign new free trade pacts across the globe, including those with the European Union and South Korea. The prime minister has said it’s essential for Canada to be part of TPP to continue building its trade network.
The political stakes for Harper are high, with the negotiations occurring on the eve of a Canadian election campaign, and a vote scheduled for Oct. 19. Harper is under pressure from farmers to defend the supply management system, and under pressure abroad to dismantle it. The vast majority of Canada’s dairy farms are in Ontario and Quebec, the two provinces with the most votes.
Industry groups are leery of any trade deal that boosts access to Canada’s dairy market, saying it would be detrimental to domestic producers.
“If I increase imports I will have to reduce production,” Yves Leduc, director of international trade at the Dairy Farmers of Canada, said in a July 16 interview. “That would mean less milk produced in Canada, less milk processed in Canada and jobs that will be lost.”