White House Pressured in D.C. to Admit Canada to Trans-Pacific Trade Talks: Drumbeat Sounds for Canada's Admission to TPP

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WASHINGTON - Canada's absence from talks on a proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement has been dominating bilateral chatter in the U.S. capital with the Obama administration under pressure to welcome Canadians to the negotiating table.

Twice this week, senior Obama administration officials have been pressed publicly about whether Canada will be allowed to join the negotiations on TPP, a trade deal many believe will have more economic might than the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Canada, Japan and Mexico have spent months attempting to convince the White House to grant them admission to the talks.

Mike Froman, deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs, said the U.S. has yet to determine whether to consider all three countries at once, or to decide if they should be admitted separately.

"We have to leave the issue for further discussion," Froman told a think-tank discussion earlier this week when pressed by an official from the Canadian American Business Council.

Bill Craft, a top international trade guru at the U.S. State Department, faced questions about Canada's admission to the TPP at the business council's conference on Thursday delving into China's impact on the United States and Canada.

He replied in a similarly non-committal fashion, saying the matter was still being discussed.

In the run-up to the G20 summit in Los Cabos in two weeks, questions about TPP are becoming more urgent in the face of such vague responses from the Obama administration. It's been the dominant bilateral issue privately between Canadian government officials in D.C. and their American counterparts.

It's a situation that's frustrating stakeholders on both sides of the border amid fears that Canadian businesses will be cut out of rapidly expanding Asian markets if excluded from TPP.

"It is a no-brainer that Canada should be in on the negotiations in partnership with the U.S. because our economies are so integrated; our supply chains feed off each other," Sam Boutziouvis, a top official at the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, said Friday.

"We depend upon each other right now for so much trade, and there are so many jobs dependent upon that trade.... Canada, within the TPP, will mean jobs in both the U.S. and Canada and the stimulation of growth for both countries."

If the TPP is truly going to be the "21st century trade agreement" heralded by its proponents, Boutziouvis added, there will likely be changes to rules of origin standards and supply chains, meaning Canada must be involved.

The U.S. and eight other nations -- Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei -- are currently hammering out a free-trade agreement.

The nine countries hope to reach a deal that would increase standards in areas that include labour, the environment and intellectual property rights protection, in addition to facilitating trade. …