Crafted largely in secrecy, the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement text was released publicly yesterday.
Trade lawyer Mark Sills of Sills Egsgard LLP says “the devil is in the details” and that over the new few days and weeks, “as people go through this, I think there’s going to be some unpleasant surprises.”
After a cursory read of the hefty documents, Sills points to concessions made by Canada regarding the automotive industry that he says could have a significant impact on the economy, particularly for southern Ontario.
“Like any trade negotiation, there obviously has to be gives, but it looks as though the Canadian government did cave on autos, vehicles, and parts,” he says.
He notes, for example, that the agreement would have Canada phase out the tariff on Japanese vehicles over six years while the U.S. has a 30-year timeline. A major concern, he says, is that in six years, Japanese-assembled vehicles will enter the country duty free, but because of the rules of origin, they’ll be able to incorporate significant amounts of parts from outside the trade bloc.
“There will be a lower level of processing required to turn non-TPP originating parts into TPP originating parts, so that’s a big concern, particularly for Ontario,” says Sills.
Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development Canada’s web site calls the agreement the largest and “most ambitious trade initiative in history” that it says will increase Canada’s foothold in the Asia-Pacific region. Despite the criticisms, other lawyers see the deal as being positive for Canada.
“The federal government has set out what I see as laudable and praiseworthy objectives,” says business lawyer and civil litigation specialist Marvin Huberman.
Huberman says that despite some opposition to the deal, he believes it will improve trading relationships, reduce technical barriers to trade, revamp intellectual property laws, and bolster trade and environmental policies with unified enforcement.
“I think all of this is wonderful and much needed,” he says.
While opponents say the deal will radically affect everything from copyright laws to Internet privacy and even grocery bills, Huberman thinks otherwise. “I’m not so sure that is the case. What I think is really happening is that this particular international agreement is challenging how our government is going to handle these issues.”
He also downplays the prospect the agreement infringes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and says the courts would protect people’s rights if it did. “But even if that possibility, or some would argue that probability, will occur, that’s why we have the judicial branch [of the federal government],” he says. “Then we achieve the balance people want.”