How will the TPP talks play out?

By Ian Capstick · October 1, 2015

The Media Narrative

If the TPP negotiations in Atlanta achieve an agreement in principle, my long time Power & Politics co-panelist Tim Powers thinks we may be headed into a mini free-trade election. He’s right and no one knows how it would play in the public sphere.

To understand how complex the communications environment becomes in the event of an agreement in principle, consider these facts:

  • The text of an agreement in principle won’t be released until Friday or Saturday and it will contain only the broad brush strokes, and this communiqué will be all everyday people see for a few weeks. For as long as the sherpas have been working on this paperwork, there are still a lot of details and translations to be finalized.
  • The devil is in the details. In the absence of the full text of the agreement, you will see controlled leaks from DFATD and the CPC campaign. Now, this is where the Constitution gets involved. Yes, really.
  • We have an important constitutional precedent to be observed called the Caretaker Convention. It’s the guide Government uses to ensure they can continue operations. The negotiation of the TPP, even the first signing of the agreement is all eh-okay according to the rules. But what’s not okay?
  • The rule clearly states the Minister must “work with deputy ministers to ensure that departmental activities are carried out in a non-partisan, low-profile manner” and “avoid the signing of treaties and agreements”. But technically, the CPC should be in the clear after they rewrote the rules earlier this year to continue the negotiations. Sneaky.

This opens several lines of attack for the opposition unrelated to the TPP deal itself — which, let’s face it, all the parties will be forced to support. At this point it’s about getting the best possible deal for Canadians with cultural, environmental and economic protection clauses for elements of the economy more susceptible to damage.

Now, all of this is predicated on a TPP deal being reached. New Zealand and Japan are pushing hard, each in the face of domestic opposition. Why?

The eleven other countries want to avoid the US election rhetoric. Republican Senator Orrin Hatch gave early indications this is also going to be an important issue for his country. In a statement yesterday he said, “No one — at least no one from our side of the negotiations — should be in a hurry to close talks if it means getting a less-than-optimal result for our country. If the agreement falls short, I will not support it.”

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz is attempting to calm the brewing storm in the agricultural debate yesterday.

“If there is loss on your farm, (or) the processing side, you will be compensated,” Ritz said in the debate in Ottawa organized by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, an organization of farm groups.

Tomorrow is the final debate on TVA. Expect a good show. There will be many one-on-ones and this is literally a make-or-break night for all three men on stage.

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