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Bilateral deals abound as APEC leaders talk Doha

Embassy, September 12th, 2007

Bilateral Deals Abound as APEC Leaders Talk Doha

Vietnam, Singapore, Peru and South Korea are just some of the countries Canada is discussing various trade deals with, despite saying the WTO talks are its priority.

By Lee Berthiaume

Despite assertions, most recently at the APEC meeting in Australia, that Canada’s trade deal priority is completing the Doha Round of World Trade Negotiations, the past two weeks have seen the launch of-and active negotiations on-a number of bilateral agreements.

Last week, International Trade Minister David Emerson announced in Sydney that Canada will be negotiating an investment protection agreement-often considered a precursor to free trade discussions-with Vietnam, and a trade framework with the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Mr. Emerson also told reporters that Canada is "quite close" to completing a free trade deal with Singapore and was hopefull that a deal with South Korea will be done by year’s end.

"Hopefully we’ll know before the end of this year on both of those agreements whether we’ve got something that we can recommend to Parliament and to Cabinet," he said on Sept. 6.

That same day, Peruvian and Colombian officials were in Ottawa for the second round of free trade deal discussions.

Last Sunday, leaders of the 21 Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation member countries, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, agreed to a Sydney Declaration, which dealt primarily with climate change, including cutting greenhouse gas emissions and a promise to work with the UN to draw up a plan to fight global warming post-2012.

The leaders also pledged to take steps on many economic issues, including a review of bilateral investment deals and investment-related elements of existing free trade pacts, reducing trade transaction costs by five per cent by 2010, and work to ensure better economic integration.

The WTO talks, however, which leaders described as "our primary trade priority," were reserved for a separate statement.

"There has never been a more urgent need to make progress," they said, reaffirming their commitment to a successful end to the negotiations, which have been stalled, in large part because some major players, like the United States, have refused to reduce agricultural subsidies, while others, like Canada, are protecting their industries.

In addressing Australia’s Parliament in Canberra yesterday, Mr. Harper said Canada and Australia are similar "in our work for a successful and ambitious outcome [at the WTO] that will lead to free and fairer trade for developed and developing countries alike."

However, no mention was made about taking steps to loosen Canada’s position on supply management of its dairy, eggs or chicken industries, which critics say has essentially driven the country from the Doha table.

Active Lobbying Needed: Bains

Liberal Trade critic Navdeep Bains accused the Tories of missing a key opportunity in Sydney to position Canada as a driving force towards completing Doha.

"A significant number of key players from the WTO Doha Round discussions were together and we really could have enhanced that," he said. "I would have preferred if the minister or the prime minister showed more leadership on the Doha Round discussions."

Mr. Bains said rather than being more flexible in its supply management positions, the government should be more active in lobbying other nations to work towards concluding the negotiations.

"The problem is the United States is not budging on their subsidies, the European Union is not making any really significant movement, neither is Japan," he said. "So why should Canada compromise its position unless the other countries that can really show leadership are not doing so as well? I feel that Canada can show leadership by encouraging them to take steps."

With an absence of movement in the WTO talks, Mr. Bains said that "by default, Canada has to examine bilateral initiatives," though he felt the two can be conducted at the same time.

NDP Trade critic Peter Julian, however, said Canadians are fortunate that Doha hasn’t been implemented, not only because it would get rid of supply management, but also because the agreement would benefit only a few.

"[Doha] is not designed to bring poor people on this planet out of property. It’s very much an agenda that is designed to profit a very small minority of people on the planet."

Bilateral pacts aren’t any better, Mr. Julian said, though with the government realizing the Doha talks are dead, it is rushing, he alleged, to sign bilateral trade deals in an attempt to cover for a lack of a trade policy.

"They don’t deny this by running around signing bilateral trade agreements that are either inappropriate, as in the case of a country like Colombia where there are gross human rights violations, or simply not in Canada’s interest."

Trade Deal with Peru ’Doable’

Eduardo Ferrero, Peru’s vice-minister of trade and the Latin American country’s chief negotiator, however, said a bilateral deal would benefit both countries, and he hopes a deal can be done by December.

Mr. Ferrero and his Colombian counterpart were in Ottawa with their respective delegations last week for the second round of free trade talks. Four rounds have been scheduled, which the Peruvian negotiator hopes will be enough to complete a deal.

"I do believe it’s doable," he said in an interview with Embassy. "We want to move forward, but we want to do the negotiations right. I don’t see a lot of sensitivities."

There are some, however, Mr. Ferrero acknowledged. Like in many trade deals that Canada has or is in the process of negotiating, agriculture will likely be a sticking point, especially as poultry products are a major product for the Latin American country.

Agriculture has already been at the root of delays in completing a deal between Canada and a four-country bloc of Central American nations, as has labour standards. Mr. Ferrero was confident labour would not prove to be a stumbling block.

The trade deal with Colombia, meanwhile, could be tied up over not only human rights, but manufacturing, especially of vehicles.

As for the Singapore deal, International Trade spokeswoman Valerie Noftle said negotiations were held in Ottawa from Aug. 13-15. The deal would be the first for Canada not only in Southeast Asia, which has a number of fast growing economies, but Asia as a whole unless an agreement is completed with South Korea.

Hwang Soon-Taik, minister-counsellor at the South Korean Embassy in Ottawa, said a small meeting of Canadian and Korean negotiators is being held in Seoul this week to try to move on some of the sensitive areas, including the automotive and shipbuilding industries, that remain unresolved.

"After that we would like to return to the full size of plenary negotiations," he said last week. "We are almost in the final stage."

However, Mr. Hwang said the best that can be hoped for is the two sides drawing as close together as possible.

"After the small-sized group meeting in Seoul, if the two sides can come closer to the agreement, I think they will resort to the political intervention," he said.

The Liberals have demanded the government not sign any deal with South Korea without ensuring market access for Canadian-built vehicles, and with the Tories trying to position themselves for a majority government, and the country’s manufacturing sector hurting, its unclear whether they would finalize such an agreement without some type of guarantees.

 source: Embassy Magazine