Liberals Dragging Out Decision on TPP: Ritz

Parliament Building in Ottawa (Photo by Saffron Blaze, CC BY-SA 3.0)

The federal government is “purposefully delaying” making a commitment that Canada will participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, says the trade critic for the Official Opposition.

Gerry Ritz, who was the agriculture minister when the terms of the TPP were finalized prior to the federal election last fall, says the Liberals appear intent on dragging out the decision until after the U.S. election. Since the agreement requires U.S. participation for it to go ahead, waiting until after President Obama leaves office is “essentially letting Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton dictate Canada’s foreign trade policy,” says Ritz.

Both Clinton and Trump have expressed opposition to the TPP, but protectionist language often fades away after an election, notes Ritz.

“We’ve seen that movie before, where Jean Chretien was against NAFTA until he was elected and then he signed it,” he points out. “Hearing Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump say they’re against it doesn’t really carry any weight.”

And if President Clinton or Trump don’t soften their stance on the TPP, Ritz believes the other 11 countries in the deal should still go ahead with it — another reason why he thinks Canada shouldn’t postpone taking a position until after the presidential election.

“Why we would wait for the Americans to ratify it and then have either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton say no to the deal makes no sense to me,” he says. “I see no reason. In fact, I’ve had these discussions with the other 10 countries, beyond the Americans, saying ‘hey, if they drop the ball and are not moving forward, why would we stop?'”

“Trading nations like Australia, New Zealand, even Japan for that matter, are starting to look at what do we do beyond the American presidential election. Why should we all be captive to that particular political movement when we all understand and recognize the value and validity of increased trade?”

So far, the Liberals have only committed to holding public consultations and debate in the House of Commons on the TPP. The House trade committee, of which Ritz is a member, has been touring the country, hearing mixed opinions on the deal. Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland told the House last week they’re continuing TPP discussions because the Conservatives “did not consult the essential groups,” but Ritz disagrees, saying the Conservatives already held the necessary meetings and that “the Liberal government’s excuse for mock consultations are based on a false pretence.”

Liberal and NDP MPs voted against a motion from former trade minister Ed Fast on Tuesday, which called on the Liberals to “stop prolonging consultations” and to make a commitment on participating in the TPP — either yes or no — prior to the North American Leaders’ Summit in Ottawa on June 29.

While the trade committee is scheduled to continue consultations in Eastern Canada in fall, Ritz says he’s received no indication from Freeland’s office by when the government plans to make a decision.

“None. And that’s part of the problem. They’ve given until the end of June for people to write in their personal stories. We have 10,000 letters that all look alike… but at the end of the day, there’s no reason Canada can’t be sending a strong signal right now, even during the consultations, that this is an agreement we have to be a part of,” says Ritz.

All 12 countries have two years from the signing that took place on February 4 to ratify their participation in the Pacific Rim trade deal.