Talks have resumed between Australian and 10 other countries for a Trans-Pacific Partnership after a last-minute no-show by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a key meeting threw the deal into doubt.
The 11 countries’ ministers had agreed to sign off on a “substantial conclusion” to salvage the deal on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Cooperation summit in Vietnam on Friday evening.
But the Canadian Prime Minister raised a series of issues in the eleventh hour and failed to attend the meeting, creating uncertainty and anger among ministers.
Now all negotiators, including Canada, say it’s “on again”, issuing a statement they have agreed to continue negotiating and an agreement on “core elements” had been reached in another meeting later on Friday.
Trudeau’s “no show” appeared to spark frustrations during negotiations with one official telling the ABC the “Canadians screwed everybody”.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said at a press conference in Vietnam that Mr Trudeau would have to be the one to answer as to why he pulled out of a meeting to revive the TPP11.
“Clearly we were expecting to have 11 nations represented around the table but one didn’t show up so we were disappointed,” he said.
“As to his reason for doing that and the timing and manner and so forth, that’s really something you have to ask Justin.”
Mr Turnbull said he later had a “very good and frank discussion” with Mr Trudeau during which he stood up for Australia’s interests.
Australian National University professor Donald Rothwell, speaking to The New Daily from Canada, said he believed domestic politics and aspects of the TPP relating to cultural issues had driven Canada’s position.
“The primary reason is that Canada is in a difficult situation trying to balance the interests of the TPP, which has Mexico as a party, but also keep alive the North American Free Trade Agreement,” Professor Rothwell said.
“This is subtly sending a message to the US that Canada is not going to be agreeable to reaching any trade deal and Canada will be making its own tough negotiating stance.”
Australia’s Trade Minister Steve Ciobo said Mr Trudeau’s absence was a “disappointing development”.
“It’s less than ideal to have every leader and trade minister from the other 10 countries sitting around the table and not have Canada there. It’s not an ideal outcome,” Mr Ciobo said.
Australian officials remain tight-lipped about the deal’s progress, but New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said there was no longer talk of countries walking away from the deal.
“It would be fair to say that there is still a little bit of clarification required around where those talks have finally landed,” Ms Ardern told reporters in Vietnam on Saturday.
“But there is a view that things are being brought together, but there remains a bit of a work in progress.”
Mr Trudeau is yet to explain why he got “cold feet”, with some suspicion that upcoming elections in industrial Quebec may have contributed to his last minute hesitation to support the TPP.
In spite of the Canadian curve-ball for the working trade deal, the progress offers new hope in the absence of the United States’ support.
The TPP-11 trade pact involves Australia, Chile, New Zealand, Brunei, Darussalem, Singapore, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru and Vietnam.
United States President Donald Trump abandoned the TPP – regarded as former President Barack Obama’s signature trade deal – after winning office in January this year.
At the time, Mr Trump said the deal “put the interests of insiders and the Washington elite over the hard-working men and women” of his country.