Distinguished fellow, Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada
Vice-Chair of the Canadian National Committee for Pacific Economic Cooperation (CANCPEC)
It hasn’t been a good few weeks for the Trudeau government’s “progressive” trade agenda.
First, the unwillingness of some countries to swallow elements of the progressive agenda was at least partially responsible for the sudden postponement of an announcement around the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) last month in Vietnam. The announcement was expected to confirm that the 11 TPP economies had reached an agreement in principle to conclude the pact.
Then an expected agreement on the start of free trade talks with China did not materialize during Justin Trudeau’s Beijing visit earlier this week, blocked by Chinese objections to including “progressive elements,” such as labour and gender rights, in the negotiations.
In both cases, talks have not been completely derailed, but it is fair to say the outcome is not what was expected. And in both instances this progressive agenda has been fingered as a principal cause.
Given the fact that progressive trade is proving controversial, it is worth examining what the concept actually means. It has become the term of choice for the Trudeau government, a branding exercise that seeks to distinguish the Liberals from the Harper government. The thinking then goes, if the TPP — negotiated by the Conservatives — was unpopular with some elements of Canadian society, why not change the dial, add some “progressive” elements and even modify the name? Thus the new version of the TPP (with its 11 economy members, down from 12 since the United States backed out) is now the “Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership.”