PM Harper Earns His Keep at the G-20 Summit

English: Stephen Harper, Canadian Prime Minister
English: Stephen Harper, Canadian Prime Minister (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While Cameron lectured Kirchner on the Falklanders’ right to self-determination; Merkel thawed on the basics of a Eurozone bailout; Euro chief Barrous railed against US self-righteousness laying at Obama’s feet blame for the European debt crisis; Canadian PM Stephen Harper walked away from Los Cabos having secured his country a coveted invite to the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership free trade talks.

Adding texture to new mantra of the G-20 – Growth over Austerity – Canada used this year’s Summit to intensify its lobby for a seat at the negotiating table for the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). It will now join the US, Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Chile, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Mexico and Brunei in trade talks that if successful will eclipse the economic strength of the North-American Free Trade Agreement and boast a market of 658 million with a gross domestic product of $20.5trillion.

Not bad for a 48-hour stay in the Mexican sunshine.

Of course Harper could hardly have expected to escape criticism at home if he failed to successfully lobby the Americans for TPP inclusion. Afterall the trade pact when concluded would open Canada’s vast western hinterland to incredible trading opportunities.

An invite brokered on the fringes of a G-20 summit is an excellent start but Canada yet may face renewed opposition because of its protectionist policies on milk and dairy. Harper’s government has maintained significant trade restrictions on dairy and poultry goods supported by a supply-management system that controls milk and egg prices and sets prohibitively high import tariffs.

Equivocal on Canada’s likely negotiating approach to its ‘supply management’ PM Harper preferred to be clear that the country’s objective in any trade talks was “promote and protect all of its interests across all of the range of industries including the greater interests of the Canadian economy”. Harper’s reference to the ‘greater interests of Canada’ perhaps hinting that the country must be prepared to display significant negotiating flexibility given that the country was not part of the original TPP group and had to lobby hard for inclusion.

For the moment however, unlike his UK counterpart who, it is understood, was so concerned with the optics of balmy Mexican beaches beamed to his austerity-stricken homeland that pains were taken to conduct his interviews next to a giant scenery-obscuring billboard, Harper can return to Ottawa confident that he, at least, has not paid lip-service to the collective’s revived focus on growth, jobs and a retreat from protectionism.

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