Canada Eyes Entry in Pacific Trade Talks as G20 Summit Comes to a Close

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Canada eyes Pacific trade deal as G20 ends

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LOS CABOS, Mexico - Mexico's inclusion in a round of major trade talks may bode well for Canada's own hopes of getting a seat at the negotiating table.

But Prime Minister Stephen Harper played coy Monday when asked if his government will be asked to pull up a chair -- possibly by the summit's end on Tuesday.

"We're delighted that Americans and others have indicated an interest in seeing Canada join the Trans-Pacific Partnership," Harper said. "I think for now I'll just leave it at that."

Rumours and chatter abound at the G20 summit in the Mexican oceanside resort of Los Cabos that Canada will be allowed to join the negotiations on Trans-Pacific Partnership, a deal many believe will be have more economic strength than the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The governing Conservatives have been lobbying the Obama administration for months to grant Canada admission to the talks.

Harper even dispatched his trade minister, Ed Fast, around the globe to drum up support for a seat at the table.

The Globe and Mail reported that no less than the prime minister's own chief of staff, former Bay Street executive Nigel Wright, has taken the lead on the file, which the newspaper says irked some members of the Conservative cabinet -- although Fast's office says the minister didn't feel slighted -- but giving a clear indication of the importance Harper puts on the trade talks.

Some analysts interpreted the inclusion of only Mexico in the negotiations as a rebuke. But it may well be that since Mexico is hosting this week's G20 summit, it would be asked to the talks before Canada or Japan, which has also been vying to get in.

"Apparently Canada doesn't make the grade. At least not for now," trade lawyer Lawrence Herman of Cassels Brock wrote in an email.

"If this is true, it's a slap in the face for the Harper government and a real setback for its trade policy agenda. It raises questions about why, after all this intense lobbying and arm-twisting by the federal government, the Americans still feel Canada isn't welcome.

"Its especially galling that Mexico, a NAFTA partner, is being welcomed on board and not Canada."

Herman said Canada has not put enough bargaining chips on the table to be welcomed to the group.

Canada's trade restrictions on dairy and poultry products present the biggest obstacle to joining the nine-country talks. Canada has a supply-management system that controls milk and egg prices while setting prohibitively high tariffs on imports.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is one of many items up for discussion at this luxury resort area on Mexico's Baja California peninsula.

Leaders of the world's 20 most important economies breathed a sigh of relief after Greek voters elected a government that intends to keep the cash-strapped country in the 17-member bloc of countries that use the euro common currency.

But Europe's debt crisis remains front-and-centre at the G20 talks.

On Monday, one of the continent's most important politicians lashed out at those who lecture the continent on how to get its economic house in order. …