LOS CABOS, Mexico — Mexico’s inclusion in a round of major trade talks may bode well for Canada’s own hopes of getting a seat at the negotiating table.
But Prime Minister Stephen Harper played coy Monday when asked if his government will be asked to pull up a chair — possibly by the summit’s end on Tuesday.
“We’re delighted that Americans and others have indicated an interest in seeing Canada join the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” Harper said. “I think for now I’ll just leave it at that.”
Rumours and chatter abound at the G20 summit in the Mexican oceanside resort of Los Cabos that Canada will be allowed to join the negotiations on Trans-Pacific Partnership, a deal many believe will be have more economic strength than the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The governing Conservatives have been lobbying the Obama administration for months to grant Canada admission to the talks.
Harper even dispatched his trade minister, Ed Fast, around the globe to drum up support for a seat at the table.
The Globe and Mail reported that no less than the prime minister’s own chief of staff, former Bay Street executive Nigel Wright, has taken the lead on the file, reportedly irking Fast, but giving a clear indication of the importance Harper puts on the trade talks.
Some analysts interpreted the inclusion of only Mexico in the negotiations as a rebuke. But it may well be that since Mexico is hosting this week’s G20 summit, it would be asked to the talks before Canada or Japan, which has also been vying to get in.
“Apparently Canada doesn’t make the grade. At least not for now,” trade lawyer Lawrence Herman of Cassels Brock wrote in an email.
“If this is true, it’s a slap in the face for the Harper government and a real setback for its trade policy agenda. It raises questions about why, after all this intense lobbying and arm-twisting by the federal government, the Americans still feel Canada isn’t welcome.
“Its especially galling that Mexico, a NAFTA partner, is being welcomed on board and not Canada.”
Herman said Canada has not put enough bargaining chips on the table to be welcomed to the group.
Canada’s trade restrictions on dairy and poultry products present the biggest obstacle to joining the nine-country talks. Canada has a supply-management system that controls milk and egg prices while setting prohibitively high tariffs on imports.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is one of many items up for discussion at this luxury resort area on Mexico’s Baja California peninsula.
Leaders of the world’s 20 most important economies breathed a sigh of relief after Greek voters elected a government that intends to keep the cash-strapped country in the 17-member bloc of countries that use the euro common currency.
But Europe’s debt crisis remains front-and-centre at the G20 talks.
On Monday, one of the continent’s most important politicians lashed out at those who lecture the continent on how to get its economic house in order.
Harper is among the world leaders urging his European counterparts to move swiftly to contain the debt crisis. But European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told a news conference the continent doesn’t need lessons on economic stewardship from anyone.
“Frankly, we are not coming here to receive lessons in terms of democracy and in terms of how to run an economy because the European Union has a model that we may be very proud of,” Barroso said.
“We are not complacent about the difficulties. We are extremely open. I wish that all our partners were so open about their own difficulties. We are extremely open and we are engaging our partners but we are certainly not coming here to receive lessons from nobody.”
Barosso also criticized some countries for not pledging money to the International Monetary Fund. The IMF is trying to raise $430 billion in rainy-day cash in case the economy tanks.
“Even euro-area member states alone are the biggest contributors, bigger than the United States — certainly much, much, much bigger than Canada — so the biggest contribution for the IMF all these years has been from European member states,” said the head of the European Commission.
“And it is quite interesting to note that even in times of crisis, now when we have decided to increase the funding for the IMF, once again, it is the European member states that have given the biggest part, the biggest share. And we are on time to do it. Others, unfortunately, are not on time.”
The world’s largest emerging economies were poised to announce Monday contributions to the IMF at the G20 meetings.
But Harper says Europe has the resources to deal with the debt crisis on its own. He has rejected the idea of pledging more money to the IMF. Canada already pledged $10 billion to the fund in 2009.
The two-day summit in Mexico wraps up Tuesday.