The Globe and Mail | 27 October 2022
Canada asking to join US-led Indo-Pacific trade talks
by STEVEN CHASE
Canada is asking to join U.S.-led Indo-Pacific trade talks, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said.
Canadian business leaders for months have urged Ottawa to sign on to the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) negotiations, saying this country should not have been left out of the launch this past May.
Ms. Joly announced Ottawa’s decision on the IPEF after a meeting on Thursday with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Ottawa.
She also announced Canada would strike new talks with the United States, called the “Canada-U.S. Strategic Dialogue on the Indo-Pacific,” to “further align our approaches” to the region. Canada is still drawing up an overall Indo-Pacific diplomatic and economic strategy to be unveiled later this year.
There are 14 states taking part in the IPEF trade talks including India, Australia, Japan and South Korea. China is not part of the talks.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi has criticized the IPEF as an effort to divide Asian countries and bring about a decoupling of foreign economies from China.
Mr. Blinken, for his part, said Thursday the United States supports Canada joining the IPEF talks, but said the request would require the consent of other members of the negotiations.
Canadian business leaders applauded Ms. Joly’s announcement. Goldy Hyder, president of the Business Council of Canada, said joining the Pacific trade talks will “enhance Canada’s credibility in the region and strengthen our economic ties” with countries taking part.
Alice Hansen, press secretary for International Trade Minister Mary Ng, said Ms. Ng had been working with U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai on joining the IPEF.
This represents a reversal of sorts for Canada. In May, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had played down Canada’s exclusion from the talks. At the time, he said the fact that Canada is a member of another Pacific Rim trade pact, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), means it doesn’t need to see more access in the region.
“Fortunately, Canada has a free-trade deal with the CPTPP and we have a free-trade deal with the U.S., which was just renewed with the new NAFTA, so it is not something that directly affects us,” Mr. Trudeau said in May.
The U.S. is not part of the Trans-Pacific trade pact because in 2017 then-president Donald Trump withdrew the country from the negotiations. The Trans-Pacific agreement had been part of a strategy under then-president Barack Obama to act as a counterweight to Chinese influence in Asia by enshrining American-style rules for trade and intellectual-property protection in the region. Then-defence secretary Ash Carter had declared the TPP as valuable as “another aircraft carrier” in terms of U.S. influence in Asia.
The White House has said the new IPEF talks are not about tariff relief on imports, but instead provide a way to sort through issues ranging from climate change to supply chain resilience and digital trade.
“The future of the 21st-century economy is going to largely be written in the Indo-Pacific – in our region,” U.S. President Joe Biden said at a launch event in Tokyo in May. “We’re writing the new rules.”
Mr. Biden also said in May that he wants the IPEF to enhance environmental, labour and other standards across Asia.
Two federal cabinet ministers have talked tough on China. Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne told a Washington audience last week that Canada wants “a decoupling, certainly from China, and I would say other regimes in the world which don’t share the same values.”
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland has said Canada should end any dependency on authoritarian states such as China for vital products.
With files from Reuters and Associated Press