We Need to Talk About TPP

Cam Dahl, President of Cereals Canada

It is a bit hard to tell, but Canada is part of one of the largest trade negotiations that have ever taken place. Hard to tell because not many seem to want to talk about it. Canadian reaction to the negotiations seems a bit like a five-year old putting their hands over their eyes and hoping no-one sees them. That needs to change. 

I am talking about The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations. These talks are rapidly running to the finish line. Canada is at risk of being last in the race. Canadians cannot afford to let that happen. 

What is at stake? The twelve countries involved in this Asia-Pacific deal make up 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product. Canada is a trading nation. We cannot afford to take a back seat in 40 percent of the world’s economic activity. 

Canada has some sensitivities in the negotiations. We are not unique. Everyone one of the twelve countries around the table have sensitive domestic issues. These range from the U.S. “buy America” programming, sugar, cars, clothing and of course agriculture. 

What does make Canada unique is that the other 11 TPP partners are talking about their sensitivities, while Canada seems to be waiting. Other TPP members have indicated that Canada risks being left out of the deal completely if we don’t quickly come to the table. 

There is much to gain. Incomes in the Asia-Pacific region are rapidly rising. Trade between Asian-Pacific countries is growing faster than any other region in the world. Countries in the TPP are not just importing more, they are importing higher quality. This is an ideal opportunity for Canadian farmers and the entire agriculture value chain. We are very good at supplying growing economies with high quality food. 

Just as there is much to gain, there is much to lose. Asian-Pacific countries are top buyers of Canadian grains and oilseeds. For example Japan imports about 1.5 million metric tonnes of high quality wheat every year. They are one of our most consistent customers. What happens to this market if competitors like the U.S. and Australia gain preferential access? 

The status quo is simply not an option. Either Canada is part of the TPP agreement and is able to participate in the region’s growth or we are left on the sidelines while our competitors gain the benefits of better market access. 

Canadian participation should really be a no-brainer, but Canada will likely be asked to make decisions at an inconvenient time. Inconvenient because these decisions will need to be made before October 19th (election-day in Canada, for those who are not political junkies). 

Elections are a difficult time for political leaders to talk about sensitive issues, including sensitive trade negotiations. Elections are also an easy time for politicians to attack their opponents for making difficult decisions that are in the best interest of the Canadian economy. 

This is why all of Canadian agriculture, especially farmers, need to speak up and be heard. We need to remind politicians from all parties that we depend on trade. We need to ensure that they know the large benefits that will come from TPP participation. And we need them to understand the costs associated with being left behind. Politicians who understand the benefits of trade need your support. 

When Canada joined the TPP negotiations Prime Minister Harper indicated a “determination to diversify our exports and to create jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for Canadian families.” I could not agree more. It is time for Canada to get back in the race and cross the finish line with our partners and realize these benefits.