Canada will consider pursuing a new multilateral Pacific Rim trade deal now that President Donald Trump has signaled the U.S. is abandoning the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said in an interview Friday shortly before Trump’s inauguration Canada would consider all its options with fellow TPP states, including whether a new deal can be salvaged without U.S. participation. The new president hammered on an “America First” message in his speech, and the administration immediately vowed to withdraw from the Pacific deal in a policy statement posted to the revamped White House website.
“There’s a number of countries which would be interested in either considering bilateral trade agreements or seeing potentially what could be done with TPP,” Champagne said by phone from Davos, Switzerland, where he attended the World Economic Forum.
His comments signal Canada’s optimism the TPP can survive in some form without the U.S. -- echoing recent votes of confidence by Australia and Japan. But former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Conservative leader who signed his country on to the pact in 2015, has expressed doubts about its future.
“It’s certainly the case that, for the foreseeable future, the big multilateral trade deals are dead,” Harper said this week in New Delhi, where he delivered his first major public address since his defeat to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals shortly after acceding to the pact.
Trudeau’s trade envoy rejected Harper’s comments but agreed TPP likely won’t proceed in its current form. Champagne was appointed to the job earlier this month in a shuffle that saw his predecessor, Chrystia Freeland, promoted to Canada’s foreign ministry.
He co-hosted an event with World Trade Organization ministers on Friday in Davos, where he called on the group to better advocate free-trade deals in an era of rising protectionist sentiment globally. “We need to have a WTO for the people,” Champagne said. “And we need to make the case that overall liberal trade has been good for everyone -- including the United States.”
Champagne said his top priority is ensuring Canada’s trade deal with the European Union enters into force this spring. The pact, signed last year and known as CETA, is a model for new agreements that can calm backlash with strong environmental and labor standards, he said.
“This is my priority number one, two and three -- CETA, CETA, CETA,” he said. “There’s enormous interest in the progressive trade agenda put forward by Canada.”