Harper gets support of Chile in bid to join TPP free-trade pact

Postmedia News | April 16, 2012

Video: Harper gets support of Chile in bid to join TPP free-trade pact

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By Mark Kennedy

SANTIAGO, Chile — Prime Minister Stephen Harper secured the support Monday of Chilean President Sebastian Pinera for Canada’s bid to join talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The announcement came after the two men held private meetings to discuss furthering economic ties. As part of that plan, the two leaders announced that the 15-year-old Canada-Chile Free Trade Agreement will be expanded to include a "financial services" section.

The change will ensure that Canadian financial institutions "enjoy preferential access to the Chilean market and can compete on a level playing field" with their competitors, said the Prime Minister’s Office.

The two leaders appeared alongside each other at a joint ceremony, where each lavished praise on each other’s country.

Pinera applauded the 1997 free-trade agreement, and as Harper’s wife, Laureen, sat nearby, he noted that she enjoys to climb mountains — adding that he would be pleased to guide her up some of Chile’s best peaks in the future.

For his part, Harper said the free-trade deal has already brought benefits in industries such as mining and energy, adding that the enhanced provisions "will bring more trade, jobs and prosperity to both countries."

Moreover, Harper thanked Pinera for providing "strong" support in favour of Canada’s bid to enter the talks on TPP, a major free-trade pact that could be a model for the world.

"Canada’s participation in the TPP negotiations would deepen trade relationships with many of our important commercial partners, including Chile," said Harper.

Harper, fresh on the heels of his attendance at the Summit of the Americas in Colombia, arrived here early Monday morning for a one-day visit with senior officials of the Chilean government.

Harper is intent on ensuring Canada is invited to the TPP negotiations and saw the support of Chile — one of the original signatories of the nine-member group now involved — as important.

The Canadian business community fears that if Canada is left on the sidelines, it could mean significant economic losses for the country.

The TPP is currently an Asia-Pacific free-trade proposal being negotiated among the United States, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

Canada, Japan and Mexico all have signalled they want in on the talks.

Two weeks ago, during a visit to Washington, Harper received a public endorsement from U.S. President Barack Obama for Canada’s aspirations to join TPP negotiations — although there is still no guarantee the U.S. and others won’t demand stiff concessions from the prime minister.

Harper said he has also discussed the issue with Peru’s president, Ollanta Humala. Harper said Peru "clearly supports" Canada’s participation in the talks.

The TPP is a proposed free-trade zone that promises to be one of the world’s most important trade agreements.

But Canada’s entry into the TPP might be blocked by some countries. It’s believed the U.S. and New Zealand have had the most serious concerns.

The opponents say Canada should not join the negotiations until it first promises to abandon the long-standing supply management system that protects fewer than 20,000 dairy and poultry farmers.

The system protects farmers with tariffs, assigns them production quotas and forces Canadians to pay higher prices for products such as milk, cheese, chicken and eggs.

During his visit to the White House earlier this month, Harper was asked by reporters if Canada is prepared to give up its supply management system in order to get a seat at the negotiating table.

Harper indicated he’s not ready to bow to those demands at the outset.

"Canada’s position on Trans-Pacific Partnership is the same as our position in any trade negotiation," he said.

"We expect to negotiate and debate all manner of issues, and we seek ambitious outcomes to free-trade agreements. In those negotiations, of course, you know, Canada will attempt to promote and to defend Canada’s interests, not just across the economy, but in individual sectors as well."

Harper came to Chile after attending the Summit of the Americas in Colombia — where most Western Hemisphere leaders had hoped to invite Cuba to their next meeting in 2015, but were blocked by Canada and the United States.

At the summit, the leaders agreed to step up the fight against the drug trade, but there was no consensus on the merits of decriminalization — an option that some leaders want the region to explore.

Canada and the U.S. — whose citizens are the primary consumers of the drugs being produced in Latin America — strongly oppose that option.

Harper said at the end of the summit that there "is increasing doubt" about whether countries are taking the best approach to fight the drug gangs.

"What I think everybody believes and agrees with — and I’ll be frank myself — is that the current approach is not working," he said Sunday. "But it is not clear what we should do."

On Monday, Harper reiterated that all leaders are prepared to look at a "variety of approaches" but that the goal is to stop the criminal drug organizations that are growing.

"The products they sell continue to get more powerful, more addictive, at lower cost," he said.

"I think very, very few leaders think anything should be done other than fighting this particular scourge on our populations."

mkennedy@postmedia.com

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