Nikkei Asia | 1 November 2023
Canada backs Ukraine’s entry to CPTPP, trade minister says
by SHIGERU SENO
TOKYO — Canadian trade minister Mary Ng on Tuesday reiterated Ottawa’s support for Ukraine’s bid to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, stressing the need to maintain high open market standards for the framework.
"Canada has already said publicly we would support Ukraine," Ng told Nikkei in an interview.
"The decision on how to deal with accession partners is going to be made on a consensus basis," Ng said. As the framework’s rotating chair in 2024, Canada is seen playing a particularly important role in discussions among CPTPP members, including Japan and Australia,.
The U.K. formally signed an agreement in July to join the Asia-Pacific trade pact as its 12th member. Ukraine, China and Taiwan have also applied.
"And I have a high degree of confidence" in Ukraine’s bid, she said, pointing to Canada’s recent experience negotiating with Ukraine to update their bilateral free trade agreement.
Ng praised the new deal for provisions "on par" with those of Canada’s FTA with the European Union and the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
"And in fact, the environmental provisions in that agreement that Canada negotiated with Ukraine is now the best among all of the agreements that Canada has," she said.
The Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement first took effect in 2017. Talks to modernize the deal were announced in January 2022 and concluded this past April, following a hiatus triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
"Ukraine is fighting an unjustified war, an unjustified illegal war that Russia has perpetrated on them," Ng said.
Despite all of this, Ukraine "has come to the negotiating table and worked very hard" to modernize and negotiate the trade agreement with Canada, she said, praising Kyiv’s commitment to the process.
Under the CPTPP, Canada has seen trade with other members increase by 10% and with Japan specifically by 23%, according to Ng. She credited the pact’s success in part to new "opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses to get into international trade."
She did not specifically discuss China’s and Taiwan’s bids to join the CPTPP. But "we all agree that maintaining the high standard of this agreement is really important," she said.
Canada so far has not been involved in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework — a separate trade initiative led by the U.S., Canada’s most important trade partner. "The United States have said that, of course, they welcome Canada to be a part of it," Ng said.
"All of the countries that are in IPEF is supportive of Canada," she also said, but did not provide specifics on if or when Canada may join the negotiations.
The IPEF’s 14 members, which also include Japan and Australia, have reached an agreement regarding supply chains. They aim to make further progress in the pact’s three other domains at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in the U.S. in mid-November. Canada is expected to closely coordinate with the U.S. as it considers the right timing to join the talks.
Tensions have grown between Canada and India in recent weeks after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there were "credible allegations" that Indian agents were involved in the killing of Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh activist.
Ng reportedly has postponed a trip to India scheduled for this fall over the recent developments.
Canada is "encouraging India to cooperate with the investigation," Ng said, and it is "not our goal at all to escalate anything."
But Ng criticized India’s response, including its decision to withdraw immunity for 41 Canadian diplomats, saying the move violates international law.
Ng spoke with Nikkei during her trip to Japan for the Group of Seven trade ministers meeting, which concluded Sunday. She was traveling with a delegation that represented about 160 companies and 250 businesspeople.
"Canadian businesses are really interested in being here in Japan," said Ng, who expressed high hopes for further industrial cooperation between the two countries.
Canada and Japan in September signed a memorandum of understanding to cooperate in electric-vehicle battery supply chains.