Interview on developments with the TPP 11

Trans-Pacific Partnership Moving Forward Without The U.S.

KJZZ Radio’s “The Show” recently interviewed NARP Executive Director Erik Lee about developments on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Below is the transcription of the interview of Lee by KJZZ’s Steve Goldstein. You can find a link to the audio of this interview here

Transcribed by: Grant Laufer

KJZZ: The Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, is moving forward with eleven nations, even after the Trump administration decided to pull the US out of the agreement. The pact is now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. A lot remains up in the air, especially considering Canada’s hesitation and how NAFTA re-negotiations could complicate the new TPP. With me to talk about where we are at and what could be next is Erik Lee, Executive Director of the North American Research Partnership. Now Erik what are the eleven remaining nations been able to accomplish so far with these negotiations?

Lee: Well I think more than anything else they’ve been able to accomplish an agreement on moving forward. That is an enormous step forward particularly after the United States left in the early days of the Trump administration. Just saying, and agreeing, that you are moving forward without the United States in a trade agreement is a momentous step forward, without a doubt.

KJZZ: So what are the things they are working on, and even in this sense, what are some conflicts that have arisen between certain countries that may have been made more complicated by the US not being involved or less complicated by the US not being involved.

Lee: Well, I think a lot of the drama right now centers around Canada’s reluctance to move forward without specific language in place that looks at things like cultural protections. And, interestingly enough, a lot of that has to do with Canadian government subsidies for a lot of the activity that happens in the entertainment industry. Canadians are very, very sensitive about the role of Quebec and the role of French in Canadian culture. And really the Canadian government functions a lot more like European governments, South American governments in terms of its support, particularly in the film industry. That’s a big deal in Canada. The other drama here is Canada’s, and to a lesser extent Mexico’s, but definitely Canada’s role in the NAFTA discussions. This is an extremely sensitive time if you are a Canadian trade negotiator, without a doubt. A lot of the team has been pulled over to the NAFTA discussions which are on a fast track. So that work is pushing other work to the side. That side of discussions is moving very very quickly and running into a lot of road bumps. I mean, they were supposed to have it wrapped up, I think, in about a month. And no trade agreement has ever moved that quickly in the history of trade agreements.

KJZZ: So there’s no fear, by Canada or Mexico, of ticking off the US by trying to do NAFTA and TPP at the same time? None of that has come into play?

Lee: Oh I think so. I think so. Particularly, again in the Canadian case, we’ve got Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who I am sure is taking into account his father’s famous dictum that if you’re Canada it’s like sleeping next to an elephant. Anything the United States does will affect you. You have to be very, very careful in dealing with an ally as close as the US is to Canada.

KJZZ: So understanding that supporters of President Trump may not even like the premise of this question: are there greater pitfalls for the US to not be involved in the TPP then there is to do what the president has talked about: having more individualized agreements. To a lot of people it just doesn’t make sense.

Lee: Right, I think it’s a bad idea to have backed out of this agreement. I am not a completely, 100% pro-free trade guy. I think these are agreements you have to look at very, very carefully and they require a lot of public discussion. At the same time they’re quite secret. These trade negotiators sign non-disclosure agreements, and that is a conflict that is just welded in to what this thing is. I understand the anti-free traders and where they are coming from. These things are exasperating to follow. It’s like a black box, and very difficult to have influence on these things once they are in motion.

KJZZ: How long an agreement would this be? And could there be, obviously as you said they are secretive, but could there be little out-clauses in there for example that if the US decided in a year or two it wanted to get back in could it?

Lee: These are negotiated as if they are agreements forever, in perpetuity. That’s an interesting point you bring up because one of the points that the US has brought up in the NAFTA negotiations is that NAFTA would have a sunset clause after five years. Which if you are a trade negotiator makes your head explode, because you would immediately be renegotiating an agreement every five years, for five years. So you would be in a constant state of negotiation if you were a country that had just negotiated an agreement with the five year sunset clause.

KJZZ: Can TPP be compatible with NAFTA? Are there things that would apply to TPP that could apply to renegotiation with NAFTA?

Lee: I think that’s an excellent question and a lot more thinking needs to be done in that area. There is a danger that  TPP could scramble or reorganize North American supply chains, and that’s something we want to think through very carefully. I mean, the devil really is in the details on these things.

KJZZ: Erik Lee is the Executive Director of the North American Research Partnership. Erik good to talk to you, thanks.

Lee: Good to be here, thanks Steve.