SINGAPORE (Reuters) - A tariff structure that supports domestic farmers should not be a barrier to Canada’s entry to a pan-Pacific trade pact, although all issues are up for negotiation, Canada’s trade minister said on Wednesday.
Ed Fast, interviewed in Singapore at the end of a tour of Southeast Asia, said most of the nine countries working toward the conclusion of a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal supported Canada’s entry into the negotiations.
He declined to say which countries did not back the plans. News reports have suggested Australia and New Zealand are unhappy about Canada’s supply management support program for poultry and egg producers, a network of marketing boards and quotas intended to keep markets stable and ensure farm incomes.
Some reports suggest U.S. support is not guaranteed.
“I wouldn’t want to speculate on any of the current nine partners’ positions on our entry into the TPP process other than to reaffirm that the large majority of those countries have articulated their support for Canada’s participation,” Fast said.
“We are actively engaged in working with our counterparts in the United States.”
Fast said trade with Asia was a priority for Canada, which relies heavily on exports and where the government wants to diversify energy sales away from the United States and toward growing markets like China.
Canada and China signed a series of trade deals and completed negotiations on an investment protection pact when Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited China last week.
Fast said Canada had already eliminated 1,400 tariff categories, amended copyright legislation and removed the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopoly on exports of wheat and barley from western Canada — legislation that is still before the courts.
“This clearly indicates a very positive trajectory for Canada and indicates also the level of ambition that we intend to bring to the TPP negotiations,” he said.
“We certainly intend to defend Canadian interests at the table. But we’ve also made it clear that we are prepared to discuss all issues, without exclusions, when we get to the table.”
The proposed TPP pact now includes the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Burnei, Chile and Peru, with plans to complete a detailed framework in 2012. Adding new members could slow the timetable.
Harper said last November Canada wanted to join and that U.S. President Barack Obama had encouraged him. Japan and Mexico have also said they want to be members.
Fast also said negotiations were proceeding on a free trade agreement with the European Union, though he declined to say which issues remained unresolved.
“We have told the Europeans exactly what we have told our TPP partners, that we are prepared to discuss all issues,” he said.
He said supply management had never hindered negotiations in world trade talks or discussions with the United States.
“You know, Canada has had supply management for well over 40 years. It is a system that has worked well for our farmers,” he said.
“But also note that over the years ... Canada was able to discuss supply management and was able to negotiate agreements that served the interests of both parties. So we’re confident that we’ll be able to do the same thing with the (EU) negotiations and within the TPP negotiations.”