When it comes to world trade the idea of free movement of goods is held up as an idea the world should aspire to.
But when country officials sit down to hammer out trade deals there are more potholes to traverse than a three-hour drive on a secondary highway in Saskatchewan.
A case in point, Pacific Rim trade ministers recently failed to hammer out a deal to free up trade between a dozen nations after a dispute flared up over auto trade between Japan and North America. New Zealand dug in over dairy trade, and no agreement was reached on monopoly periods for next-generation drugs.
The failure to achieve a deal probably is not a surprise to anyone.
The more players at the table the more issues to overcome. There are many long standing areas of friction between long-time trade partners which have a tendency to flare up again at a negotiation table.
If you doubt that, think how often the United States pointed at the old Canadian Wheat Board as an issue even after courts had deemed it was not.
Currently you can bet the issue of Country Of Origin Labelling (COOL) will be a raw nerve between the US and Canada for some time moving forward.
Now consider what the Trans-Pacific Partnership was trying to accomplish. The TPP had trade ministers from the 12 nations negotiating toward a deal which would stretch from Japan to Chile and cover 40 per cent of the world economy.
According to a recent story at www.producer.com “the TPP seeks to meld bilateral questions of market access for exports with one-size-fits-all standards on issues ranging from workers’ rights to environmental protection and dispute settlement between governments and foreign investors.”
Those are pretty heady goals.
And when the same story noted, “the talks, which drew about 650 negotiators, 150 journalists and hundreds of stakeholders,” you can bet every line off any deal was scrutinized and argued and rebuffed over and over.
The problem is simple, countries talk of a desire to freer trade, but in reality they mean they want easier access for their goods, yet to maintain a level of protection for their own favoured industries.
The two are of course opposing viewpoints, albeit the motivation is understandable.
Canada would like freer access for say pork, as we produce far more pork that we can consume domestically, so it must find an export home.
But we’d also like to protect our dairy sector as there is a level of concern about relying on another country shipping a staple such as milk thousands of miles to have a mom pour on her family’s breakfast cereal each morning.
In the end far-reaching trade deals are rarely accomplished simply, but rather by gaining small victories over the longer term.
There will eventually be a TPP, but whether it is a widely meaningful deal, or merely a water-downed deal signed to save face among politicians is yet to be seen.