OTTAWA – In the days following Donald Trump’s surprise victory, Canadian diplomats in Washington repeatedly warned Ottawa that the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership was dead — even as federal ministers insisted it might survive.
Two separate dispatches from the Canadian Embassy in Washington, obtained through the Access to Information Act, offered little hope for the deal between 12 Pacific Rim countries that involved 40 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product.
The view from the diplomatic corps in Washington was decidedly more pessimistic than the message Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his then-trade minister Chrystia Freeland were delivering that same week at an international meeting in Peru.
At the time, Trudeau said the Liberals were keeping their “options open” on the deal.
Freeland refused to declare the deal dead and said the government would continue consultations with Canadians on the pact to fulfil a Liberal promise from the 2015 election campaign.
Two months later — and just three days after his inauguration — Trump served notice that he was taking the U.S. out of the TPP.
Shortly after the Nov. 8 election, Canadian diplomats in Washington were convinced Trump had no interest in keeping the deal alive, and they had no hesitation about saying so to Ottawa.
“No chance for TPP in lame-duck session,” reads one section of a four-page memo drafted by the embassy eight days after Trump’s stunning election victory over Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
“President-elect Trump is expected to fulfil his promise to drop out of Trans-Pacific Partnership within his first 100 days in office.”
Another embassy memo written the same week delivered an identical message.
“Though some optimists in Washington believed there to be a path for TPP in the lame-duck session, the election of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States has reduced TPP’s prospects from dim to nil.”
A lame-duck session of Congress is one that takes place after its successor has been elected, but before the successor’s term begins in January.
Both memos noted that the Republican leaders in the Senate and House of Representatives had also said they had no plans to bring TPP forward in the fall 2016 session.
The two memos also explained that then-U.S. president Barack Obama would continue to push TPP “for economic and strategic reasons.”
On Nov. 20, Obama made a final international pitch for TPP during a closed-door meeting at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation leaders’ summit in Peru.
Obama urged leaders of the 11 other TPP countries not to give up on the pact, despite Trump’s promise to kill it.
Trudeau and Freeland were among those in the room.
Trudeau said after the meeting that he would not jump to conclusions about what Trump might do with TPP. The prime minister said the government would be “keeping our options open.”
Freeland repeatedly deflected the suggestion that the TPP was all but finished. She did, however, point out that the agreement could only come into force with the approval of Japan or the United States, the two largest economies in the agreement.
Freeland reiterated the government’s position that it needed to continue consulting Canadians “to have a strong conversation” about the deal. The signatory countries had a two-year period to consult from February 2016 onward, she noted.
Freeland was moved to Foreign Affairs in January. Her successor in International Trade, Francois-Philippe Champagne, is scheduled to attend a major post-TPP meeting in Chile in two weeks.
Champagne said Canada is looking to form a “coalition of the willing” to forge trade links in Asia following Trump’s decision to kill the TPP.
He will take part in talks with the 10 remaining TPP countries, as well as with two significant countries not in the pact — China and South Korea. Canada’s priority is to pursue bilateral trade deals with China, Japan and India, the minister said.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau said Tuesday in New York that “there was much work done” on how the TPP could have come into effect.
“We’ll continue to think about how we can expand our trade relationship around the world.”
— with files from Andy Blatchford