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Politics

Canada's 11th-hour revolt gums up TPP talks

Ministers scrambled to heal rift in meeting Friday night

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.   © Reuters

DANANG, Vietnam -- Last-minute Canadian objections dashed plans for leaders from the 11 remaining Trans-Pacific Partnership countries to announce a broad agreement at a Friday summit on bringing the pact into effect without the U.S.

Warning signs

Just past 10 a.m., the so-called TPP 11's chances still looked strong. Ministers and chief negotiators had worked until 3 a.m. to put the finishing touches on a broad agreement, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said in a meeting related to ongoing Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation talks here. A joint statement was due any minute, he said, and leaders from the 11 nations were ready to give their stamp of approval during a summit in the afternoon.

Yet there had already been signs of trouble. "Despite reports, there is no agreement in principle on TPP," wrote Francois-Philippe Champagne, Canada's minister of international trade, in a tweet late Thursday night, after Japanese Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters that a broad agreement had been reached in ministerial talks.

Canada strongly objected to Japan announcing an agreement before leaders had met, a source involved in talks said. Domestic politics also look to have played a role. Canada is reworking the North American Free Trade Agreement with the U.S. and wants to project the image of a tough and demanding negotiator. It has been playing hardball on TPP talks for some time.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau staked out a similar stance earlier this week, saying Canada will not be rushed into a deal that is not in the best interest of the country or its people. This posturing also seems to be behind Ottawa's insistence that Tokyo adjust rules governing the automotive trade.

Late recovery

As Friday progressed, prospects grew dimmer. Trudeau and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met for talks past 1:20 p.m. What was expected to be a 20-minute face-to-face session stretched to nearly an hour as the pair talked through the trade pact. Other leaders waited, prepared to announce an agreement. But Trudeau never showed.

Japanese officials in town for the APEC leaders' summit grew alarmed. "It would be unprecedented" for a country to renege on a ministerial-level agreement, an Abe aide said.

After the leaders' meeting collapsed, officials from Vietnam's Ministry of Industry and Trade told local media that a joint news conference by TPP ministers was off. Minister Tran Tuan Anh said that leaders had become unable to sign the agreement. The Tuoi Tre newspaper went so far as to report that Canada was ready to ditch the TPP 11.

But the day was not over. At Motegi's call, ministers gathered again Friday evening to bring Canada back around. When negotiators emerged after 10 p.m., things seemed to have been settled. Motegi returned to the Japan delegation's lodgings and told Abe that the situation had been brought under control. All participants had reaffirmed that the agreement reached Thursday was "correct," and Canada would not be making any changes, he told a news conference. The deal was back on.

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