Talk of new Trans-Pacific Partnership grips member nations at APEC leaders summit

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has arrived in Danang, Vietnam, the site of the APEC leaders summit, where talk of a new Trans-Pacific Partnership has gripped member countries.

Trade ministers from 11 of the 12 original signatories — with the notable exception of the U.S. — have been in advanced talks this week in the resort town ahead of the arrival of national leaders.

While some countries are hopeful for a deal by the weekend, Canada has sought to tamp down such optimism. The prime minister has publicly said Canada will not be rushed into any deal, and will not cave to “pressure” from other countries.

Officials from Japan said late Thursday that countries had reached an “agreement in principle,” but International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne pushed back in a statement to Canadian media saying a final agreement was not yet in reach, a message echoed by Vietnam Trade Minister Tran Tuan Anh.

New Zealand’s newly elected Labour prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said talks are now “down to the wire,” but there are still sticking points with some member countries.

“I don’t want to predict what way it will go. There are a number of issues still on the table. Not all of them are ours,” she told reporters.

New Zealand has concerns about investor-state dispute settlement provisions of the deal — a system through which investors can sue individual countries for alleged anti-competitive practices, a dispute-resolution process often opposed by left-wing stakeholders.

The TPP leaders meeting will be held Friday evening in Vietnam — early Friday morning in Canada. So far, talks have only taken place at the ministerial level.

Japan is eager to pen a deal as it looks to check the hegemony of China in the Asia-Pacific region, especially as China’s relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump improves after a successful state visit by the American leader to the communist country this week.

Trudeau will meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of APEC on Friday, the prime minister’s office said. 

Canada has two major sticking points with TPP, including passages on intellectual property rights and cultural exemptions.

Trudeau said Thursday Canada must maintain the right to regulate, and financially support, the country’s cultural industries and not fear retribution at a trade tribunal. Importantly, Canada has long maintained it must be allowed to protect its culture — especially its minority francophone culture — against globalization and cultural assimilation.

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Trudeau is greeted by students as he arrives at the Ton Duc Thang University in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, Thursday. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Trudeau ducked further questions about cultural policy at a moderated discussion in Saigon on Thursday, saying he is not at the negotiating table. Japan has previously opposed special treatment for culture during the initial TPP talks.

While TPP talk brews, Trudeau will also meet Friday with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, to discuss the progress of another trade deal, a renegotiated NAFTA.

A fifth round of trade talks will be held  Nov. 15-17 in Mexico amid a standoff on some policy fronts. Canada has sought to work closely with Mexico as it looks to secure another trilateral trade pact. 

Before trade talk, Trudeau will meet with former Ontario premier Bob Rae, who he recently appointed as his envoy to Myanmar, a country in the grips of a human rights crisis that has seen 600,000 Rohingya Muslims fled into neighbouring Bangladesh. 

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