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All Eyes on Canada as TPP Talks Resume

SNA (Tokyo) — After the debacle at the end of the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks last November in Vietnam, all eyes were on Canada as the talks resumed in Tokyo.

After making public announcements that a broad agreement had been reached on TPP 11—or what is now called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTTP)—Canada then came out and declared that it wasn’t yet satisfied with the terms of the pact and wasn’t ready to sign.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau explained, “The auto sector and culture are two areas where there is still more work to do.”

The Japanese side, all the way up to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe himself, haven’t made much of an effort to conceal their annoyance with the Trudeau administration, essentially accusing them of trying to wreck many months of patient efforts in order to posture for the benefit of a domestic political audience.

Both the Japanese and Australian governments, which are the most publicly gung-ho about quickly implementing the CPTPP, have suggested that the deal should be signed in March with or without the Canadians on board.

As Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull put it in one interview, “The important thing is to get the train rolling. Then you can add a few more carriages along the way.”

That is a reference both to a potential Canadian holdout, as well as to the United States, which the Abe government seems to believe will eventually return to the TPP framework, in spite of the current position of US President Donald Trump.

Parenthetically, the government of the United Kingdom on the far side of the planet has also recently suggested that it might want to become one of the TPP carriages in the future as a post-Brexit measure.

For its part, the Abe administration appears to envision signing the CPTPP in March and then quickly submitting it for ratification to the Ordinary Diet Session that launched yesterday morning.

The original twelve-member TPP—Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam—account for more than 26% of world trade. After the US withdrawal, that figure dropped sharply to just over 15%. Canada is the second-largest economy of the CPTPP after Japan.

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