Harper gets interest, no invite to Pacific Rim trade group

WASHINGTON — Canada may have to give up its protectionist marketing boards if it wants to join a new free-trade group of Pacific Rim countries, U.S. President Barack Obama suggested Monday.

President Barack Obama

WASHINGTON — Canada may have to give up its protectionist marketing boards if it wants to join a new free-trade group of Pacific Rim countries, U.S. President Barack Obama suggested Monday.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper got another expression of interest in a meeting with Obama in Washington, but hasn’t yet received a formal invitation to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

And it could be a case of ‘be careful what you wish for,’ if Obama’s words are to be heeded.

The president said that Canada, like any other country, may have to put its long-entrenched marketing boards on the table if it wants to join the trade expanding group.

“Every country that’s participating is going to have to make some modification,” Obama said during a news conference at the end of the North American Leaders Summit.

“That’s inherent in the process because each of our countries has their own idiosyncrasies, certain industries that in the past have been protected.”

The prime minister sat down for three hours Monday at the White House with Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon and the three leaders emerged singing a song of trilateral harmony.

But the jewel coveted by the Harper Conservatives — a seat at the fledgling Trans-Pacific Partnership — remained elusive.

Obama effectively repeated his coy response from last November: that the United States welcomes Canada’s interest in joining.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a proposed tariff-free zone that would include 500 million consumers from nine countries, including Australia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore and Chile.

But Canada’s system of supply-management of eggs, milk and other farm products is seen as a stumbling block to participation in the new free-trade zone.

“Our desire to be part of that negotiation is part of Canada’s ambitious trade agenda,” said Harper.

“This is obviously a logical extension of the desire of our government to dramatically broaden our free-trade relationships around the world.”

The prime minister did not answer a direct question on whether he was prepared to abandon the marketing boards in order to join the trade talks, but said his government would do what is needed to protect industries.

“Canada will attempt to promote and to defend Canada’s interests, not just across the economy but in individual sectors as well,” he said.

Canada is already in the process of negotiating new trade arrangements with dozens of countries.

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