TPP: Maui Madness

  • National Newswatch

Trade expert Peter Clark is in Lahaina, Hawaii, where he has been reporting throughout each day on the talks at the Trans Pacific Partnership Ministerial meeting.

LAHAINA, Hawaii – The situation in Maui is ominous.There is a hurricane bearing down on Hawaii – gaining strength from the warm Pacific waters.There was a full moon last night.I am looking at a beautiful black swan in the pond at the Westin – ten feet away.  Is this an omen?Ministers have been in and out of plenary sessions. They are trying to do the deal.No doubt there is a lot of jaw boning to bring the recalcitrant into line.An underlying problem appears to be Washington's lack of contribution to seeking middle ground. Give and take unfortunately requires all sides to give. There are rumours that the US will need to come to Australia's position on Biologics data protection. Will that be enough?There are still problems with automobiles. Very sticky and what else is yet to be done?USTR is denying media reports on Canada's alleged dairy offer.The Kiwis will be taking a lot of flak on this as they were behind the leak.  NZ is part of the problem.If reports that sensitive products offers are 'open to all' are, in fact, true, those who have wanted country-specific preferences within a preferential agreement are doomed to disappointment. Clearly, if the deal does not meet New Zealand's overly optimistic ambition, the highly unpopular TPP will be a hard sell for the Key Government.There is much speculation on whether Canada can continue to participate in the negotiations at the ministerial level during the election period. Officials doing the day-to-day work certainly can – they have a mandate.There is really no question that Ministers can participate. The Government is the government until the voters say otherwise. Former Liberal Agriculture minister Andy Mitchell was engaged in the Doha Round negotiations during an election period.My experience tells me that the work now is mainly about polishing the communiqué to stress the progress and establish ways for future work to bridge the gaps.The Ministerial Press conference has been delayed from 1:30 PM HST to 4:00 PM. Will it happen then? Perhaps, but I am very dubious. These time targets are a moveable feast.This negotiation is not being run like a Swiss railway. The deadline, like flight delays, seems to be a moveable feast and the next delay should beg the question – on which day?What are Jimmy the Greek's Vegas odds on a deal today? Very long. A deal today seems beyond reach. Some Ministers are leaving or going sightseeing. It will be difficult to schedule another ministerial.Peter Clark, president of Grey, Clark, Shih and Associates, is one of Canada's leading international trade strategists. His clients in Canada and around the world include governments, corporations and trade associations. He is a frequent media commentator and columnist.  Follow him on Twitter at @jpclark14