As negotiations for a Trans-Pacific Partnership continue, the Conservative government is being accused of sending mixed messages on what the deal will mean for the auto sector.

But speaking to CTV’s Question Period, Trade Minister Ed Fast assured a worried auto sector that the government is keeping its interests in mind at the TPP negotiating table. 

In the past, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has said the auto sector may not "necessarily like everything" in the TPP deal.

“We have continued to consult very closely and very regularly auto-parts manufacturers, with the auto assemblers. And quite frankly, there’s hardly a day that goes by that we’re not in touch with them,” said Fast. “They very clearly have certain expectations and those expectations, of course, guide our negotiations at the table.” 

But Jerry Dias, president of Canada’s largest private-sector union, told Question Period that Fast has not reached out to Unifor, which represents some 40,000 auto workers. 

“No, he hasn’t (reached out), nor will his government even think of consulting with the workers that are involved with this trade deal,” said Dias. “I speak every day to the automotive companies that are involved and they are furious and they are nervous.”

Dias said he finds the Conservatives’ inconsistent messaging confusing. 

“I’m encouraged because (Fast) said that he wasn’t going to sign a deal that wasn’t in the best interest of Canadians. However, what he said was very inconsistent with what the prime minister has said. So the question is: who do Canadians believe? Mr. Fast or Mr. Harper?” 

Dias has said that successful TPP negotiations will devastate the auto industry. His main concern is Japan’s lobbying efforts for an easing of so-called rules-of-origin requirements, which would allow the country to export vehicles to North America with less Canadian-made parts. 

“Unless there has been a dramatic shift in the Japanese position, then we are in trouble,” said Dias.

Report of dairy concessions 'false'

Fast also shut down a report that the Conservative government is preparing to make concessions on the country’s dairy sector in the ongoing TPP talks.

“I want to be very, very clear about this. The reports that somehow Canada has actually made commitments in this area are patently false,” said Fast.

A media report Friday said the government is preparing to offer 10-per-cent share of the Canadian market, without equal access for Canadian dairy farmers in the U.S.

In July, Canada rejected a U.S. demand for 10-per-cent access to the Canadian dairy market at a round of TPP talks in Hawaii. 

Fast said he will continue to defend the supply-managed sector when he heads to Atlanta this week to join his counterparts for a resumption of TPP talks.

“We will continue to defend the sector. We expect that post-TPP, we’ll continue to have a robust supply-management system in Canada,” said Fast. “And that’s something that our supply-managed sector can take to the bank.”

However, Fast said the government will also keep in mind the interests of the “98 to 99 per cent of our economy” that isn’t covered under supply management, to ensure that those sectors have access to new markets in the Asia-Pacific region. 

David Wiens, vice-president of Dairy Farmers of Canada, said there's no "gain” to be had in "any eventual agreement."

In current conditions, Canadian dairy farmers can't export their product, they only produce what Canadians consume.

Wiens also said that handing over the rumoured 10 per cent of the country's dairy market share would deal a huge blow to Canadian businesses.

"(It) would be absolutely devastating to the Canadian dairy industry," said Wiens.

Canada’s supply-management system has been a touchy issue in the TPP negotiations. The U.S. and New Zealand want Canada to reduce its tariffs on foreign dairy products, which are some of the highest among the TPP members. The other TPP members are Japan, Australia, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Vietnam, Brunei, Singapore and Malaysia.

No commitment to conclude talks

Fast would not speculate on whether TPP negotiations would conclude in Atlanta this week. Rather, the minister said he is focused on signing an agreement that best serves Canada’s interests. 

“Whether the deal actually gets done in Atlanta, no one can tell. I’m certainly not going to prejudge the outcome,” he said. “We will only sign an agreement if it is, indeed, in Canada’s best interests.” 

While the 12-country trade deal, which would create the world's largest trade zone, has faced heavy criticism, economist Ian Lee says Canada must be a part of it.

"This is 40 per cent of the world's GDP -- somewhere around 40 per cent of the world's population -- and it's not just about cows, milk and auto parts," said Lee.

With a report from CTV's Manitoba Bureau Chief Jill Macyshon