The Privy Council Office has clarified the rules regarding the conduct of government officials, including ministers, during an election. The details are of particular interest for farm groups because they allow Trade Minister Ed Fast and Canadian negotiators to continue participating in Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.
Trade ministers and lead negotiators from the 12 participating countries said they made “significant progress” on a TPP deal in Hawaii last week, but they were unable to reach a final agreement before the meetings ended on Friday.
The TPP ministers said they were “committed to build on the momentum of this meeting by staying in close contact as negotiators continue their intensive engagement to find common ground,” however there were questions raised about Canada’s ability to participate after the start of a federal election campaign on Sunday.
The Privy Council Office, the non-partisan, public service that supports the Prime Minister and Cabinet, published an updated document on Sunday entitled “Guidelines on the Conduct of Ministers, Ministers of State, Exempt Staff and Public Servants During an Election.”
The document updates a previous version of the guidelines released in 2008, adding the following paragraph:
For greater clarity, there may be compelling reasons for continued participation by Ministers and/or officials in specific activities such as treaty negotiations. For example, when negotiations are at a critical juncture with timelines beyond Canada’s control, the failure to participate in ongoing negotiations during the caretaker period could negatively impact Canada’s interests. Under such conditions, a compelling case may be made for ongoing efforts to protect Canada’s interests. Irreversible steps such as ratification should be avoided during this caretaker period.
Rick White, CEO of the Canadian Canola Growers Association, welcomed the clarification in an interview with RealAgriculture on Wednesday.
“We’re very confident that the Canadian minister will be able to fully participate and wrap up the negotiations if the TPP countries can get back together and get the deal done,” he said.
While Canada remains involved in the negotiations, there are still questions about what would happen if a deal were reached, as ratification in Parliament would only occur after the election.
Canadian farm groups — both those focused on increasing exports and those representing the supply-managed sectors — expressed disappointment that a deal was not reached last week.
“We wish to express that it is unfortunate given the continued business uncertainty, that the ministerial meeting in Maui, Hawaii did not yield the highly anticipated, significant 12-country trade deal…,” said a joint statement from the organizations representing Canada’s dairy, poultry and egg farmers. “We hope that the Ministers, Chief Negotiators and countless others involved will quickly plan the next step toward the conclusion of a TPP agreement.”
The president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture noted a delayed conclusion creates uncertainty for both supply-managed and export-oriented farmers.
“We hope negotiators return to the table quickly and can continue to negotiate a trade agreement that recognizes the needs of all Canadian farmers,” said Ron Bonnett in a statement from CFA.
Brian Innes, president of the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance, noted “it is reassuring to hear Minister Fast affirm Canada’s commitment to be an active participant at the negotiating table in the coming weeks. At this critical stage, it is essential that all political leaders stand up for Canadian agriculture and agri-food exporters to ensure that Canada is a founding member of the TPP.”
Governments in the U.S. and Japan are facing elections next year, adding pressure to the timeframe for getting a TPP deal done.