OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's new Liberal government will take the "technical step" of signing a 12-nation trade deal next week but has not yet decided whether to formally ratify the agreement, Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Monday.
Canada is one of 12 nations that initialed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in early October after years of talks, agreeing in principle to create a trade zone covering 40 percent of the world's economy.
The TPP was negotiated by the former Conservative government and the Liberals, under pressure from labor unions fretting about possible job losses, have launched wide-ranging public consultations.
Freeland said in an open letter that for the consultations to continue, Canada needed to stay at the table.
"That means when the eleven other countries convene to sign the agreement next week, Canada will attend as well," she said.
"Signing does not equal ratifying, ... (it) is simply a technical step," she added.
Once all 12 nations have signed, each will then have two years to ratify the deal.
Reuters revealed in December that Canada was most likely to sign the deal but would hold off on ratification until it could judge whether resistance in the U.S. Congress was likely to kill the agreement.
Freeland indicated the process of consultations, including a debate in Parliament and examination by a formal committee, would continue for months.
"Just as it is too soon to endorse TPP, it is also too soon to close the door," she said in the letter.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by James Dalgleish