Harper takes his free trade agenda to Chile
Published Monday, April 16, 2012 8:39PM EDT
Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrived in Chile on Monday where he's hoping to expand a free trade deal and secure an endorsement for Canada's inclusion in the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Harper was warmly received in the Chilean capital with a military honour guard at the presidential palace, La Moneda. He also presented a wreath at a nearby monument to one of Chile's founding fathers, as soldiers raised the Chilean and Canadian flags.
Since Canada signed a free-trade deal with Chile 15 years ago -- Ottawa's first such deal with a South American country and Chile's first-ever free trade accord -- subsequent pacts with other countries have gone beyond the scope of that once-groundbreaking arrangement.
Now, Harper hopes to bring the Canada-Chile Free Trade Agreement up to date by broadening its scope.
Harper is also expected to push for Chile's support of his bid for Canada to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership that began as an agreement to negotiate a multilateral trade agreement between Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore in 2005.
Since then, the U.S., Australia, Malaysia, Peru and Vietnam have all joined the process, with Japan, Mexico and Canada all asking to take part last November.
Canada's attempts to join negotiations have, so far, been rebuffed.
In comments to reporters at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia Sunday, Harper said he's already got the support of Peruvian President Ollanta Humala and hopes to muster the same from Chilean President Sebastian Pinera.
"I am optimistic about his support, but we have to have that discussion," he said.
Canada's supply management policies designed to protect certain Canadian industries from international competition -- principally poultry and dairy -- have proven the major roadblock to a seat at the TPP table.
Ahead of the weekend summit, Harper's director of communications indicated the government was not about to change its tune for the sake of a part in the proposed free trade partnership.
"We're not going to take things off the table just to get to the table," Andrew MacDougall said. "That's never been the approach of the government."
Harper's Chile trip comes after his participation in the two-day Summit of the Americas, where Canada and the U.S. grabbed headlines for their opposition to Cuba's inclusion at future meetings of Western hemisphere leaders.
Their position was so unpopular, that several countries refused to sign the summit's final declaration.
Watching developments from Ottawa, where he is a senior fellow at the University of Ottawa's School of International Development and Global studies, Carlo Dade said the Cuba issue has highlighted "a major fracture in the hemisphere."
While the U.S views Cuba as a Communist holdout, Dade said Latin American nations continue to hold a "grudge" rooted in their perception of 100 years of American "bullying, intimidation, manipulation and interference."
"So the issue has always been there, this is just the moment when it's been able to come to the surface," he told CTV News Channel Monday.
Looking ahead to Harper's Chile trip, Dade said that visit should prove more productive.
"Partially, the summit is theatrics, it's relationship building," he said, contrasting the weekend get-together with today's efforts in Chile.
In light of Canada's ongoing push to increase trade with Asia, Dade said that Harper's free trade push in Chile trumps scoring political points elsewhere in the region.
Speaking later on CTV's Power Play, Dade said the meetings in Chile and the further opening of trade relations elsewhere in Latin America are key if Canada is to diversify its economy way from the United States.
"There are two options globally," Dade said. "Europe's not much of an option anymore. So you're looking at Asia and you're looking at Latin America. Canada is very well positioned for both markets. It's not a question of either Asia or Latin America, it's a question of both."
Since Canada and Chile entered their free trade partnership in 1997, two-way merchandise trade more than tripled to total in excess of $2.7 billion in 2011.
The Conservative government also said Monday that Canada would be contributing $3.8 million over five years to a training centre for indigenous youth in the Chiloe islands off of Chile.