China, TPP & NAFTA: Top Canadian Negotiator Discusses Busy Trade Agenda

These are busy times in the federal trade department, as Global Affairs Canada is acting on several key trade files.

Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne is in Chile this week to discuss the possibility of an Asia-Pacific trade deal now that the U.S. has withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP.) Just last week, the department opened up consultations on a free trade deal with China. The Canada-E.U. trade deal (CETA) is going through the implementation process. And all of this is happening while the new U.S. administration is promising to renegotiate North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Kirsten Hillman at the Canola Council convention in Winnipeg last week.

“Our goal as trade negotiators is always to try to set stable, predictable environments for our trading industries, and right now that’s something that we’re working on pretty hard,” says Kirsten Hillman, assistant deputy minister for trade agreements and negotiations for Global Affairs Canada, in the interview below.

As part of her role, Hillman oversees Canada’s agenda when it comes to trade negotiations, including the team that’s conducting exploratory trade talks with China. She was previously Canada’s lead negotiator for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. (She also has some personal ties to agriculture, as her mother’s family farms in southwest Manitoba in the Goodlands-Deloraine area.)

Following her presentation at the Canola Council of Canada’s 50th annual convention in Winnipeg last week, Hillman sat down with Real Ag to discuss the fate of the TPP, context for a potential Canada-China free trade deal, and some of the questions surrounding trade issues with the Trump administration:


Highlights:

On Trans-Pacific Partnership and the possibility of an Asia-Pacific multilateral deal:

The TPP as concluded cannot go forward without the U.S., but “does that mean initiatives in the Asia-Pacific among TPP countries maybe using some of what was done in the TPP are not possible? No. Those are things governments are talking about…there’s a bit of conversation there to be had.”

“I’m confident that one way or another that work (on developing the TPP) isn’t lost, and it will find its place.”

What would China be looking for in free trade deal with Canada?

“I think they’re looking to have a trade negotiation with an advanced G7 economy that is experienced in negotiating comprehensive, modern agreements. I think they have a lot of domestic plans…entering into a discussion with us might help them facilitate their plans for their domestic economy.”

What’s the timeline for discussions on a deal with China?

“We’re doing two things simultaneously: the consultations with Canadians and exploratory discussions with China. The exploratories will continue until they’re done. There’s no real set timeline. It’s a conversation and an effort to gain mutual understanding of what our goals and objectives would be… We’re not pre-judging how much time that would take.”

On NAFTA and what’s being done to prepare for discussions with the U.S. in light of American dairy sector pressure to open up market access in Canada:

“At this point in time the administration in the U.S. is really just getting the people in place. People like me, we don’t have any counterparts yet to talk to. So the short answer is there’s nothing really happening there yet.”

“We are obviously following closely what the administration is saying and at the political level there are all sorts of conversations and relationship-building with people who are getting into place, but there seems to be a way to go yet.”

Related: Ottawa Launches Consultations on Trade Deal With China

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